Journalists have united to raise concerns about the Scottish government’s handling of Freedom of Information requests.
An open letter has been signed by 23 journalists calling for a review of the way Holyrood deals with FoI requests, amid claims they are routinely being screened for potential political damage by special advisers.
The letter’s signatories also claim requests are being blocked or refused for tenuous reasons, and repeatedly delayed beyond the 20 working day deadline “without clear justification or warning”.
Those to sign the letter, addressed to the panel which selects the Scottish Information Commissioner, include journalists from Glasgow-based dailies The Herald, Sunday Herald and Daily Record, and Dundee daily The Courier.
It reads: “We have become increasingly concerned about the way in which the legislation is being interpreted and implemented. We would be grateful if these concerns could be taken into account during the process to appoint a new Scottish Information Commissioner.”
It adds: “We are increasingly told the information we are seeking is not held where ministerial meetings with other bodies or individuals to discuss government policy are said to be informal, minutes are not taken, and records are not kept.
“Correspondence and reports that should be available seem not to exist. This raises the question of whether Scottish ministers and civil servants now have a practice of not recording information that would previously have been recorded.
“The Scottish government has described itself as a beacon of transparency under the open government partnership and says it is committed to becoming more open, accountable and responsive. We believe our experiences put that commitment under great doubt.”
Earlier this year similar claims were made by Scottish Newspaper Society director John McLellan, who said spin doctors were now handling requests rather than officials responsible for the information.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said: “We take our responsibility for FoI seriously and in the large majority of cases we respond on time and in full.
“At the same time, the increasing volume and complexity of some requests can prove time consuming, and has the potential to seriously impact on the work of government.”
She added: “We are working with the commissioner to ensure we continue to provide information in as timely a way as possible, while continuing to look for opportunities to proactively release information.”