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Daily editors throw weight behind FoI campaign

Mike Gilson, newly appointed Editor of the Belfast Telegraph.Two more regional daily editors have added their voices to calls to keep the Freedom of Information Act intact.

Both Mike Gilson, of The Argus, Brighton, and Rob Irvine, of the Manchester Evening News, have highlighted their opposition to possible changes to the Act which could see its powers weakened.

A government-appointed Commission has received more than 30,000 submissions following its call for evidence on whether FoI should be amended.

During the consultation the Society of Editors’ launched its ‘Hands Off FoI’ campaign in association with HoldtheFrontPage and Press Gazette.

HTFP has submitted as evidence its archive of 204 stories on how regional newspapers have used FoI in the public interest.

Among those stories was The Argus’s revelation in July this year that its readers had been kept in the dark by Sussex Police about 785 crimes committed during a fortnight-long period in March.

Said Mike: “It has been a vital tool in opening up the sort of detail and fact that fuels debate in a properly democratic society.

“All institutions have a tendency not to share information. It’s in their DNA. When you hear statutory authorities saying they believe in transparency it is usually transparency on their terms.

“The list of stories uncovered by The Argus using the act is impressive testimony to the important role in plays.”

The Commission is due to report to government in the New Year on recommendations for reform which may include the introduction of fees for requests and new exemptions from FoI laws.

Rob also voiced his opposition to any planned changes to Act.

He told the MEN’s readers: “Journalists are united in their opposition to any move that will impose a tax on investigative journalism and weakens the ability of the media and the general public to hold public bodies to account.

“The FoIA is an important reminder to leading figures in the public sector that they work for us, a fact that some of them all too easily forget.”