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Grayling urged to ‘engage brain before mouth’ over FoI

FOIA Government Minister has been urged to “engage brain before mouth” over his criticism of journalists using the Freedom of Information Act.

Scottish Newspaper Society director John McLellan has hit out at Chris Grayling’s accusations that journalists are “misusing” FoI to “create stories”.

John’s comments come the week after former Press Association political editor Chris Moncrieff said Mr Grayling, who is Leader of the House of Commons, was speaking “arrant tosh” on the matter.

John lent his support to the Society of Editors’ “Hands Off FoI” campaign, which is being run in conjunction with HoldtheFrontPage and Press Gazette, in a  column for Glasgow daily The Herald.

He wrote: ” It was one of those ‘engage brain before mouth’ moments, when Commons leader Chris Grayling complained that journalists were only using freedom of information law to research stories.

“Well, d’uh, Chris. That’s what journalists do, especially when those in power say their questions can’t be answered. But at least we media types should be grateful for such a perfect summary of its value.

“According to Mr Grayling, freedom of information should be restricted to ‘those who want to understand why and how government is taking decisions’, which is anything between a pretty small bunch of political anoraks and academics or all of us, depending on your definition.

“But his argument suggests that those who are not students of the workings of government have relinquished their right to be kept informed of what is happening in their name.

“Was he really suggesting that government should now create tiers of privileged access? It’s not so far-fetched and to an extent this is already happening, with schemes for official accreditation being floated, in particular by the courts, to deal with a growing army of bloggers seeking the same level of contact as mainstream journalists.”

Mr Grayling sparked industry outrage after telling MPs that the FoI Act is “on occasions misused by those who use it effectively as a research tool to generate stories for the media.”

His comments came in response to a Commons question from Birmingham Erdington MP Jack Dromey after his local newspapers, the Birmingham Post and Mail, voiced concerns about the threat to FoI.