A group of Scottish journalists has claimed that Freedom of Information requests north of the border are being “screened for political damage by special advisers”.
Some 23 journalists have written a joint letter to MSPs on the selection panel to recruit a new Scottish Information Commissioner protesting that the openness law is being flouted by public authorities.
The letter (available in full here) has been signed by reporters from investigative journalism website The Ferret, The Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Daily Record, Daily Mail, Herald, Sunday Herald and Sunday Post.
It warns that:
- FoI answers are routinely delayed significantly beyond the 20-day limit without justification
- Email queries about FoI delays are ignored
- Requests are being blocked for tenuous reasons.
The letter questions whether “information requests by journalists are being treated differently” in breach of the legislation.
The signatories are also concerned that politicians are avoiding leaving an FoI paper trail by holding informal meetings where minutes are not taken.
The National Union of Journalists has given its backing to the letter.
Scottish organiser Paul Holleran said: “The NUJ has been concerned for some time about the changing attitude towards FoI in Scotland, particularly in respect of Scottish government treatment of the issue. It appears to me there has been a change in the culture of FoI engagement by some ministers. The approach to dealing with responses is dramatically different than the heady days of its introduction and early implementation of the FoI Act.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish government said: “Scotland has the most open and far-reaching freedom of information laws in the UK. We take our responsibility for FoI seriously and in the large majority of cases we respond on time and in full. At the same time, the increasing volume and complexity of some requests can prove time-consuming, and has the potential to seriously impact on the work of government.”