Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged his support for the Freedom of Information Act at a lunch hosted by the News Media Association today.
Corbyn, who himself worked briefly as a local newspaper journalist at the start his career, addressed regional newspaper lobby correspondents, editors and chief executives.
According to the NMA, he said: "We have a Freedom of Information Act which is very, very important because freedom of information is essential in any democracy if you are to hold to account those that exercise authority, power or administration.
“I’m absolutely against charging for FoI requests.
“It’s an essential tool for the entire community. It’s also an essential tool for investigative journalists to find out what is going on in local government, local health authorities, local police and crime commissioners work and many, many other areas.
“It’s very important and I’m sure that’s something we can all agree on; the essential nature of the Freedom of Information Act, the freedom of information is a very important tool for local newspapers as well as of course national newspapers and journalists, it is a question of accountability.”
The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information was set up by the Government last year and is expected to report next month. Campaigners fear it will recommend new fees for FoI requests and changes to the law which will make it easier for public authorities to turn down requests on cost grounds. It was reported by The Times today that the Government plans to strengthen the power of ministers to veto FoI disclosures.
News Media Association chairman Ashley Highfield said he welcomed the Labour Party’s commitment to strengthening FoI, to which Corbyn reportedly said: "There is a case for strengthening it and I'll look at that."
Corybn said he does not normally attend press lunches.Talking about his experience working on a local newspaper, Corybn said (according to the NMA): "What was nice about that paper and indeed what is nice about local papers is that it was the glue of the community, that everybody bough the paper, everybody relied on the paper, and I think that’s true of local media all over the country.
“Even with some degree of centralisation of local media and some degree centralisation of newsgathering there is still a much greater trust in local media and in regional media than in national media, and I think that’s something we should be pleased with and I think it’s something that’s very important in our lives.
“I love the diversity and variety of this country and I think there’s a huge and very important role in community cohesion not just for local papers but for local radio stations, local TV stations, and regional newspapers and that can be very important in reaching out to all communities.
“So you can get more people from BME communities buying and reading local papers if the local papers are responding to what their community are saying so you report just as much of the relevance of what’s happening in the mosque as what’s happening in church or a synagogue or a temple so it can become a very important binding agent for the local community.”
Picture: News Media Association.