Climbdown on FoI follows Press Gazette campaign

News that the Government is backing down on plans to water down the Freedom of Information Act comes 10 months after Press Gazette launched a massive campaign opposing the changes.

The proposed Freedom of Information and Data Protection Regulations had the capacity to neuter the act completely, in the words of the Newspaper Society.

The rules would have worked by allowing public authorities to include the cost of considering whether or not a request should be answered when calculating whether it would exceed the cost limit of £450 for local government, or £600 for central government.

It also proposed allowing public bodies to add up the cost of answering separate requests from the same news organisation.

FoI requests which exceed the costs limit could have been thrown out irrespective of the public interest.

According to the Government’s own independent review, the changes would have meant an extra 17,000 FoI requests being thrown out.

Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information Maurice Frankel said that he thought the rule change would mean “any penetrating requests would be very likely to be refused in future”.

The Government had originally indicated that it intended to make the new regulations law on 19 March.

But after huge opposition from across the media, a second consultation on the changes was instead started.

The Newspaper Society, the Campaign for Freedom of Information and the Society of Editors all figured strongly in the campaign against the changes.

More than 1,000 journalists from across the UK media signed Press Gazette’s petition opposing the changes to FoI. The campaign comprised more than 20 editorial pages reflecting the huge disquiet in the industry about the changes.

Nearly every national and regional daily newspaper editor signed the Press Gazette petition.

Among those opposing the FoI changes was Sunday Telegraph home affairs correspondent Ben Leapman.

He said today: “It is great news that Gordon Brown has listened to the representations from the media, the public and pressure groups and decided not to go ahead with these curbs on the public’s right to know.

“The Government was clearly impressed by the way in which the national and local media, including Press Gazette, united in opposition to the proposed changes.

“The fact that two-thirds of public bodies who responded to the consultation supported the proposed curbs, even though they were clearly badly flawed, shows that FoI legislation has not yet changed the culture of secrecy which pervades parts of the public sector.”

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