We waited a long time for
the Freedom of Information Act, and for all its shortcomings, over the
last two years it has immeasurably improved the openness of British
But on 19 March the Government proposes to change the
law in a way which will — in the words of the Newspaper Society —
neuter the Act completely.
According to Society of Editors
director Bob Satchwell, who has already been campaigning hard on this
issue: “The changes have the potential to destroy the Act and the
progress that it has made towards changing a culture of obsessive
secrecy in Government to one of openness.”
In order to save £10
million a year, the Government is proposing to give public authorities
far wider scope to turn down requests on cost grounds. According to the
Government’s own independent review, an extra 17,000 FoI questions (out
of around 100,000) a year will be turned down after the rule changes —
irrespective of the public interest in information being released.
changes are specifically designed to target the “serial requestors” who
have proved so bothersome to Government departments and local councils
over the last two years. And the consultation document admits that
unsurprisingly many of these people are journalists.
of Information Act has shed light on countless stories that would have
remained shrouded in secrecy without it — from the Attorney General’s
advice on the legality of the war in Iraq to details of council hygiene
inspections at your local restaurant.
Unless we act fast, this
could be the generation of journalists which won a long hoped-for
Freedom of Information Act only to let it slip through our fingers.
14 December, the Government started a consultation on the changes to
FoI regulations which will end on 8 March. And with the proposed law
change scheduled to take effect, under delegated powers, on 19 March,
there is little time to act.
Press Gazette wants every news organisation in the country to support our petition opposing the proposed changes.
And we plan to present the full list to Number Ten Downing Street and
the Department for Constitutional Affairs before the end of the