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Industry urges Cameron to reconsider FoI restrictions

A group of industry bodies including the National Union of Journalists and the Society of Editors have signed a letter calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to scrap proposed restrictions to the Freedom of Information Act.

The letter, which has been co-ordinated by the Campaign for Freedom of Information, coincides with an international summit on open government in London, where it is expected that each attending country will announce new commitments towards greater openness.

Last year, the government announced that it was considering several proposals to make it easier for public authorities to refuse FoI requests on cost grounds.

The letter, which has been signed by 76 newspapers, campaign groups and charities, states that the FoI proposals are not compatible with Mr Cameron’s stated aim of making the UK “the most open and transparent government in the world”.

Those who signed the letter included The Press in York and the Newspaper Society.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, signed the letter which states: “Many requests of substantial public interest would be refused under these proposals regardless of the benefits of disclosure. They would have a severe effect on the operation of the FoI Act.

“We find it difficult to reconcile the commitment to become the world leader in openness with the government’s proposals to restrict the FoI Act, which is a critical element of the UK’s openness arrangements.

“Many requests of substantial public interest would be refused under these proposals regardless of the benefits of disclosure.

“We hope that the government will mark that commitment by announcing that it will not be bringing forward proposals to restrict the act.”

The government says the changes are intended to address the “disproportionate burdens” caused by requesters who make “industrial use” of the FoI Act.

But the 76 organisations say “the proposals would restrict access by all users, including those making occasional requests of modest scope”.

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