A regional daily has devoted 15 pages of today’s edition to the campaign to preserve the Freedom of Information Act.
The Oxford Mail published a front page montage of stories uncovered by FoI warning readers: “This is what could be lost.”
It followed it up with 14 pages of inside coverage warning against moves to water down the current legislation.
Mail editor Simon O’Neill said he feared the commission set up to review the legislation would weaken it and also introduce charges for requests.
“There is no doubt that there is a slow creep towards secrecy in many government departments and public bodies,” he said.
“The rise of legions of communications teams, who effectively act as nightclub bouncers for journalists seeking access to information, has made the Freedom of Information Act a key weapon in the armoury of any news organisation worth its salt.
“It is often our only way round the gatekeepers of information that the public has an absolute right to know.
“Now we are facing a suspiciously loaded and opaque commission which is ‘reviewing’ the Act. If you want a clue as to what direction it is heading in, the commission itself is not subject to the very Act it is reviewing and has even considered taking anonymous evidence.
“The man and woman in the street must realise that this is about their right to know, not just that of a few journalists. And we’re not talking about state secrets here, but about how our public bodies spend our cash and do the daily job we pay them to do.
“The Act is, if I am not mistaken, about to be severely curtailed and made subject to hefty charges, all because a few politicians who got caught fiddling their expenses and some well remunerated Sir Humphreys see it as a pain in the proverbial butt.
“That must not be allowed to happen for the sake of a government and society that is truly open. This is our information, not theirs.”
The Government is believed to be keen to water down the Act, with Cabinet minister Chris Grayling claiming journalists were “misusing” it to “create stories.”
HoldtheFrontPage editor Paul Linford said: “The Freedom of Information Act has become an essential tool for journalists on local and regional newspapers but it is very clear from the make-up of the Commission that the government is set on watering down the legislation.
“It is also clear from Chris Grayling’s recent comments about journalists ‘misuing’ the Act in order to ‘generate stories’ that he neither understands the purpose of the Act nor the role of the media in a democratic society.
“Grayling says the Act is there to enable people to understand how and why government takes decisions. What on earth does he think the role of the media actually is, if it is not to understand how and why government and other public authorities take decisions, and to explain that to the people affected by them?
Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford added: “I think it’s absolutely fantastic that the Oxford Mail is getting behind the campaign so strongly.
“It has been incredibly dogged and diligent in the use of FoI over the years and local newspaper readers across the country would be far less informed if the changes to the Act take place.”
The commission’s consultation into changes to the Act closes at midnight on Friday, November 20. A petition supporting the Hands Off FoI campaign has already been signed by 22,400 people.