FoI use widespread

By Martin Stabe and Hamish Mackay

The Scottish Information Commissioner says journalists’

use of the Scottish Freedom of Information Act in its first year in force has spurred widespread use of the open-government legislation.

Writing his annual report, Kevin Dunion said journalists had accounted for just 7 per cent of appeals to his office, but that stories including the phrase "using the new Freedom of Information Act"

had raised public awareness of the new law.

Dunion referred specifically to the resignation of Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie MSP (pictured) in a scandal over his taxi expenses, which only came to light after Dunion upheld an FoI appeal by Sunday Herald Scottish political editor Paul Hutcheon. But Dunion also advised reporters to be more specific when making FoI requests.

Journalists "should be aware that dashing off an email with a request causes the whole might of the Act to come into effect with obligations on the authorities", Dunion wrote in the report.

"This is not to discourage use of the legslation, but, as one journalist pointed out to me, when fishing for information there is a difference between the skilful angling of a well-defined request compared to the drift-netting which calling for all material held on a particular subject often resembles," he added.

Dunion also warned against any changes to the Act which would detract from the right to information and more transparency and accountability.

The Scottish Executive is currently carrying out a public consultation on how the Freedom of Information Act is working. Some journalists are concerned by proposals to introduce upfront fees for each request

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