Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn declared his “absolute” opposition to charging for freedom of information requests as he addressed a regional political journalists’ lunch at Westminster.
The government has established a commission due to report shortly on possible changes to the FoI Act which could include charges for requests as well as new restrictions on the disclosure of information.
But Mr Corbyn told the Newspaper Conference annual lunch that FoI was “essential in any democracy” and an important tool for local newspapers and investigative journalists.
Chaired by Archant group political editor Annabelle Dickson, the conference is made up of Westminster-based correspondents of UK regional newspapers.
Mr Corbyn said: “We have a Freedom of Information Act which is very, very important because freedom of information is essential in any democracy if you are to hold to account those that exercise authority, power or administration.
“I’m absolutely against charging for FOI requests.”
“It’s an essential tool for the entire community. It’s also an essential tool for investigative journalists to find out what is going on in local government, local health authorities, local police and crime commissioners work and many, many other areas.”
“It’s very important and I’m sure that’s something we can all agree on; the essential nature of the Freedom of Information Act, the freedom of information is a very important tool for local newspapers as well as of course national newspapers and journalists, it is a question of accountability.”
Ashley added: “Mr Corbyn, your comments today indicate that you and your colleagues recognise the importance of local media to democracy. We hope this can be reflected in all areas of the Labour Party’s policy-making.”
Mr Corbyn spoke on a variety of topics at the lunch which was attended by 40 local and regional press editors, political editors, and chief executives.
Asked by Yorkshire Post political correspondent Kate Proctor whether the recent reshuffle was a “revenge reshuffle,” the Labour leader revealed he had signed off on the completed reshuffle by text message.
Mr Corbyn, who once worked as local press journalist, also praised the role of local newspapers in “community cohesion.”
“Even with some degree of centralisation of local media and some degree centralisation of newsgathering there is still a much greater trust in local media and in regional media than in national media, and I think that’s something we should be pleased with and I think it’s something that’s very important in our lives,” he said.
“I love the diversity and variety of this country and I think there’s a huge and very important role in community cohesion not just for local papers but for local radio stations, local TV stations, and regional newspapers and that can be very important in reaching out to all communities.”