'Keep up FoI pressure on the Government for these last days'

A delegation of Britain’s leading newspaper editors met Information Minister Baroness Ashton on Tuesday and left the meeting hopeful that the Government is now “looking for a way out” over proposed FoI regulations which have prompted universal condemnation from Britain’s journalistic community.

But Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, who was among those to meet Ashton, said it was vital that journalists keep up pressure on Government in these final few days of the consultation.

Included in the national newspaper delegation were Sunday Times editor John Witherow, Sunday Telegraph editor Patience Wheatcroft, executive editor of The Independent on Sunday John Mullin, Evening Standard managing editor Doug Wills and FoI specialist reporters Rob Evans and Ben Leapman.

They met Ashton to voice their concerns that the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Regulations (consultation on which closes next Thursday) will drastically reduce journalists’

ability to use the FoI Act.

Rusbridger said: “She made a lot of conciliatory noises, trying to say that this wasn’t aimed at the press and that they were genuinely trying to find a way of dealing with the problem of a minority of people who were taking up so much time with their requests.

“She said that there could be a requirement for officials to negotiate with the applicant to help them rephrase the question, rather than simply to just reject it.

“We were all pretty sceptical that we could find a form of words that was workable and wasn’t so subjective that it would be meaningless. We said that if she wasn’t trying to target journalists, why doesn’t she simply exempt them – but she seems to be resolutely against that.

“I sense that they were trying to find a way out… I think she took on board the fact that there were a lot of editors at the highest levels in the regional and national press who are completely appalled at what is going on.”

Journalists can influence the official consultation by writing to the Government before 8 March, or by signing Press Gazette’s online petition against the changes before 9am on Monday (see pages 6 and 7 for more details).

Rusbridger said: “I think there’s a genuine wish to consult [from the Government] which maybe there wasn’t when they went into this, and I think we’ve all got to keep up the pressure and redouble our efforts.”

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