Guardian News and Media urges Government to abandon plans to water down FoI

Guardian News and Media has submitted a strongly worded submission to The Government urging it not water down the Freedom of Information Act.

The Guardian made its submission to the official consultation (which has now closed) on proposals to massively increase the number of FoI requests rejected on costs grounds – irrespective of the public interest.

The submission states: "We strongly oppose the proposed changes and believe that they should not be implemented at all. We are very disappointed that the government is seeking to restrict severely the act even though it is barely two years old. Lord Falconer, the constitutional affairs secretary, has claimed that the act has been a great success as many people have been using it. Ministers now apparently want to destroy the very success for which they are claiming credit."

The submission adds: "The proposed changes would affect journalists in particular, as they are required to gather information in the course of their work and may make regular and repeated requests.

"The proposed changes will turn back the tide, and return us to a culture of secrecy and lack of accountability. Authorities who do not want to disclose information will be encouraged to consult widely and unnecessarily in order to increase the costs threshold and be able to refuse a request. There will be no incentive to streamline responses to FOIA requests in order to increase efficiency and cut costs."

"Journalists play a distinct role, described by Law Lords as ‘the eyes and ears of the public'. Preventing these key players from accessing information of complexity, sensitivity and political import, deprives the public of its right to know."

Last week Press Gazette handed a petition signed by 1,250 journalists to Number 10 Downing Street and the Department of Constitutional Affairs opposing the proposed FoI changes.

The petition was signed by nearly every national newspaper editor and the vast majority of regional daily newspaper editors.

Responding to an MP's Parliamentary Question on Monday, Constitutional Affairs ministers Vera  Baird revealed that the DCA had received 182 replies to the consultation. The Department now has three months to respond.

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