The Press Association has joined the campaign to save the Freedom of Information Act saying plans to charge for requests would “severely damage democracy.”
The agency has submitted its response to evidence to the Independent Commission on Freedom of information, which is currently reviewing the Act.
It voiced “serious concerns” at the manner in which the review is being conducted, the composition of the Commission and the impact of diluting the Act.
In its submission, PA editor-in-chief Peter Clifton described the possible introduction of charging for requests as a “major concern”.
He cited an example in which PA sent each of the UK’s 45 police forces FoI requests asking how many registered sex offenders were missing.
Were charges introduced at the rate of £25 per request, then PA would have faced a bill of £1,125 for asking each force to detail the number of sex offenders of whom it had lost track.
Responses from 39 forces revealed police had lost track of 396 convicted sex offenders. The story prompted Labour to call for an “urgent review” into the way registered sex offenders were monitored.
Said Peter: “This is just one example. Under a charging system, requests, or appeals, would almost certainly deter us seeking information and limit our ability to inform the public for good, as they would for all but the wealthiest news organisations.
“We are unshakeable in our support of the Freedom of Information Act and any plan to limit its reach by extending secrecy in relation to the workings of government, extend the veto, or introduce charges would severely damage democracy.”
Peter added: “PA firmly believes that the FoI Act is a major benefit to a democratic society, bringing greater public understanding of the workings of national and local government and ensuring that the public can scrutinise the work of those who devise and administers policies, and hold them to account.
“The public pays for these institutions and the FoI Act gives them a valuable insight into how they are performing. They deserve nothing less.
“PA has produced a wide range of stories that have been in the public interest, uncovering waste and maladministration, and helping to bring about changes in the law.
“Without the use of FoI, these would not have been possible.”