The Society of Editors has put its weight behind calls for action over proposed changes to the Freedom of Information Act.
The society, which campaigns on behalf of editors, has written to Baroness Ashton, Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, expressing concerns over planned changes to the charging arrangements.
Reading time, consideration time and consultation time could be included in the calculation of the appropriate limit above which requests can be refused on cost grounds, and multiple requests by the same person or organisation could also be limited.
But the society says these proposals “are fundamentally flawed” and would undermine the ideas behind the FOI legislation.
Earlier, the Newspaper Society called on local newspaper editors to step up a campaign against the potential changes, asking them to contact local MPs and send letters to be forwarded to Ministers responsible, as well as highlighting the issue in-paper.
In his letter, Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell said its members had always believed that the FOI Act was simply an essential but relatively small step towards a change in culture from one of pervading secrecy to one of openness in public affairs.
He said: “The society has always maintained a view the Government previously appeared to endorse, that greater openness is crucial for greater public involvement, engagement in politics and decision making at national and local levels. Achieving such change need not be expensive but it does require adequate investment.
“The proposals aimed at reducing the number of requests for information under the Act are, therefore, also at odds with stated policy aims.
“Encouraging participation in the political process surely implies an increase in public questioning. Indeed it should be welcomed rather than restricted.”
Bob also said the cost to central Government and the wider public sector of the working of the Act was “a relatively small use of public funds” and called on the Government to ensure there is proper investment to allow requests for information to be dealt with properly.
He added: “Public bodies generally could benefit similarly by the allocation of modest extra resources to the provision of information in response to FoI requests. That would enable them to meet those requests without interfering with their important work.”