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Industry body joins calls to save Freedom of Information Act

FOIThe body which represents national, regional and local newspapers and magazines has launched a drive to defend the Freedom of Information Act.

The legislation faced what it called “a grave threat” as a result of the consultation being held by the government-appointed Independent Commission on Freedom of Information, the News Media Association said.

It said in its weekly e-bulletin yesterday that it was encouraging members to respond to the consultation – which closes on November 20.

It has also created a new FoI section on its website with briefings and examples of the legislation in action.

The NMA’s move follows the Society of Editors’ launch of a “Hands Off FoI” campaign, being run in conjunction with HoldtheFrontPage and Press Gazette.

Regional editors are being urged to write to MPs in their newspaper’s circulation areas to fight proposals to restrict the Act.

NMA legal, policy and regulatory affairs advisor Lucy Gill said: “It is so important that members respond to the consultation and write to Ministers and MPs about this. That is why we have sent around a briefing and campaign materials to all our members.

“Proposals to charge fees for requests are tantamount to an information tax. It will make the diligent monitoring of public authorities prohibitively expensive for public and press alike. Removing whole swathes of information from FoI would be turning the clock back decades on official transparency.

“The whole sector must stand up for the right to know and stand against secrecy and the information tax.

“It is essential that all supporters of the FoI Act make their voices heard at this time. That is why NMA will be asking its members in the national, regional and local press to show the Commission – and the Government – how they use it to benefit their communities and enhance the public good.”

Campaign for Freedom of Information director Maurice Frankel told the SoE conference on Monday: “If we don’t do something about it, the act is going to be seriously restricted.”

The Independent Commission is to look at providing greater “protection” for internal discussions, which include Cabinet discussions and risk assessments by government and local authorities.

It will also examine the ministerial veto and whether anything should be done to limit the burden which local authorities are arguing the Act places on them.

Mr Frankel warned that these areas of discussion had wide implications and could lead to important information becoming lost.