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Editors launch ‘hands off FoI’ campaign

FOIRegional editors are being urged to sign-up to a campaign to fight proposals to water-down the Freedom of Information Act.

The Society of Editors launched its ‘Hands Off FoI’ campaign in conjunction with HoldtheFrontPage and Press Gazette at its conference in London today.

Editors are being asked to write to their own MPs and those in their newspaper’s circulation areas to fight proposals to restrict the Act.

The campaign was announced by incoming SoE president Nick Turner, left, during a conference session on FoI today.

Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said the commission looking into the Act was considering introducing charges for FoI requests.

Said Nick: “This would be a cynical and, indeed, dangerous backward step in the long fight for greater openness and transparency.

“If MPs really want to serve their constituents, they will support this campaign to maintain the tremendous work of the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

“The fact that Maurice Frankel and the Campaign are still in business a decade after the Act came into force demonstrates the need for all those who believe the public have a right to know what is done in in their name and with their money, to join this vital battle.”

HoldtheFrontPage publisher Paul Linford added: “The Freedom of Information Act has become an essential tool for journalists on local and regional newspapers and HoldtheFrontPage is pleased to give its backing to this campaign.

“Charging for FoI requests would add to the burdens on local newspapers at a time when the government is purportedly trying to find ways to help the industry.  It must be resisted.”

Maurice told the conference that in Ireland, the introduction of FoI fees choked requests down to 25pc of previous level.

“Now, that’s what I call a chilling effectm,” he said

Jason Collie, formerly of the Oxford Mail and now of the London Evening Standard, said many organisations, not just police, routinely use the FoI Act as a ‘tool of obstruction’ by asking journalists to submit FoI requests to answer straightforward questions.

A committee of former politicians set up to look at possible changes to the Act includes former Home Secretary Jack Straw, who introduced the Act but has since described it as a mistake.


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  • October 20, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    I agree with Jason Collie that too many public organisations try to avoid answering straightforward questions by diverting the journalist to submitting an FOI. However, equally news organisations have turned the system into an easy and lazy way to fill column inches. Far too many of the questions submitted are pointless and certainly do not seek to find important facts – just uninteresting and meaningless tales which they hype up and pretend are vital exclusives.
    Both sides are therefore at fault. But the cost of researching the replies falls on the taxpayer – most large public bodies now have to employ staff solely to respond to FOI questions – hardly a good use of public money. Perhaps that would be a good FOI question…how much does your organisation spend on answering these questions?,

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  • October 21, 2015 at 11:13 am

    What the story above fails to mention is that time is horribly short – the ‘consultation’ ends on November 20, and the campaign aims to get as many sensible responses in as possible by that deadline.
    Part of the problem is the FOI Act has no purpose clause. That means people only see a list of exemptions, which focuses the mind immediately on ‘how can we avoid answering this question?’. We should all send the CFOI a tenner every time we print a story carrying the phrase: “…as the result of an FOI request.”

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