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FoI charge plan branded “back door bid to restrict access”

Cameron LeedsCharges could be introduced for Freedom of Information requests as part of a review which has been criticised by regional press industry figures.

The Commission on Freedom of Information is to looking at the possibility of fees as part of a wider review of the Act.

The commission is being chaired by Lord Burns and includes former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw, former Conservative leader Lord Howard of Lympne, Lib Dem peer Lord Carlile of Berriew and former BBC vice-chair Dame Patricia Hodgson.

In a public call for evidence, announced on Friday as part of the review, the commission discusses charges implemented for FoI requests in other countries as well as past attempts to do so here.

But Trinity Mirror’s digital publishing director David Higgerson has condemned the plan.

Writing on his personal blog, David said: “This is the back door to restrict access to information through charges to tighter rules around the time spent finding information.

“The burden would be much lighter if councils and government departments kept better records, were more open with information in the first place, and worked harder to make FoI a smoother process for everyone.

“It doesn’t need a commission to solve those problems. It takes common sense coupled with a desire to really have the most transparent government in the world.”

David added: “What’s abundantly clear through the creation of the commission is that both that common sense and desire are lacking in Westminster.

“Everyone likes accountability until they are the ones who are accountable, or so it seems. Make no mistake, FoI faces its greatest threat yet.

“This is little more than an attempt to seal off the state from the scrutiny it is obligated to be subject to.

“How the commission handles the public responses will reveal just how open-minded they really are. My gut feeling is not to expect too much. Only volume of opposition can help stop this.”

The Cabinet Office said the panel had been asked to consider the balance between the need to maintain public access to information, the burden of the Act on public authorities and whether change is needed to moderate that while maintaining public access to information.

Last month ten regional press editors were among a host of industry leaders to sign a letter to the Prime Minister, pictured above left, expressing “serious concern” at the government’s approach to FoI.


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  • October 13, 2015 at 11:25 am

    “Everyone likes accountability until they are the ones who are accountable, or so it seems” says a top bod at Trinity.

    How often does trinity hold itself to account and respond to questions from htfp and others about how it runs its business? Never, if it’s anything like Newsquest.

    It’s a bit rich hearing someone proclaim how vital accountability is when most media corps don’t believe in it themselves.

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  • October 13, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Where would we be without what has now become a summer staple front filler: ‘Oxdown Council admits it has no plan to deal with a Zombie attack – an Oxdown Bugle Insight Team Exclusive Investigation!’

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  • October 13, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Tiresome posturing by editors.

    Anyway, they’re so used to getting material for nothing through “UGC” that the thought of actually having to pay for anything gave them a fit of the vapours.

    (I say “material for nothing” but the cost is measured in journalists’ and photographers’ jobs, of course.)

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  • October 13, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    Id have slightly more sympathy were it not for the daft FOI requests which websites and papers claim to be great journalism. Take Trinity Mirror’ s GetReading this week – a major tale about the weight of babies born at the local hospital. The weights were in fact nothing unusual nor dramatic but I bet the financially pressured hospital had someone spend several pointless hours getting the answer.

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