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Public bodies becoming more secretive says editors

Most local newspaper editors believe getting information out of councils, police and health authorities is becoming harder, a survey has revealed.

Research carried out by the Newspaper Society found that nearly 80pc of editors believe public bodies are becoming more secretive, despite the Freedom of Information Act.

It found that 35pc of them had experienced having a reporter either prevented from attending a public meeting or prevented from reporting details from it, although two thirds of editors who challenged such rulings were successful.

Just 10 per cent of editors from weekly and daily titles said getting information from public bodies had become easier in recent years while 13 per cent said it was neither harder nor easier.

The online survey of local newspaper editors was conducted for Local Newspaper Week, which starts today.

It also found that the average newspaper attends 12 meetings of public bodies a month and publishes around 30 stories from these meetings.

NS communications director Lynne Anderson said: “The findings of this survey point towards an extremely worrying trend of increased secrecy among public bodies making it harder for local newspapers to perform their scrutinising role on behalf of their readers.

“Local newspapers act as a watchdog for democracy by shining a spotlight on the workings of public bodies and it cannot be right for this vital function to be undermined.”

Other findings included:

  • More than a fifth of local newspapers use digital technology such as Twitter to report live from public meetings.

  • The average local newspaper successfully challenged a reporting restriction on 3.2 occasions in the past year.

  • The average local paper will have a reporter covering a criminal court on an average of 2.3 days out five.

  • The average local newspaper submitted 16 FoI requests last year and in 81pc of cases, the information requested was successfully obtained.


    peter hawkins (10/05/2010 11:15:02)
    Johnston Press declined to comment on this story.