More than 600 sign Press Gazette petition to save FoI

More than 600 editors, reporters and members of the public have so far signed Press Gazette's petition calling on the Government not to weaken the Freedom of Information Act.

Part of the Hands Off FoI campaign, led by the Society of Editors, and backed by Press Gazette and Holdthefrontpage, the petition urges Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock MP not to allow the FoI Act to be weakened.

The Government’s Independent Commission on Freedom of Information is currently gathering information for a ten-year review of the act. It is widely feared that the commission is the precursor to a move by the Government to weaken FoI by adding new restrictions on the release of information, strengthening the ministerial veto and adding new fees, which the petition describes as a "tax on journalism".

As well as individuals, the petition has so far won support from organisations including Unite and the Freedom Association.

Explaining his reasons for signing, former Guardian investigations editor David Leigh wrote: "I know how vital FOI is and how much politicians and officials hate it."

Channel 4 News investigative journalist Paul McNamara tweeted: "Every journalist should sign this petition to stop draconian changes to the #FOI Act – great work by @pressgazette."

Former News of the World executive Neil Wallis said: "Please, sign this: petition to stop charges for FoI requests which would be a 'tax on journalism'."

Ryan Gallagher, a journalist at The Intercept, said: "UK's freedom of information laws already totally dismal & weak. Idea that govt wants to weaken further is a scandal."

Mike Jempson, the director of journalism ethics charity Mediawise, described the petition as a "MUST SIGN for everyone… Freedom of information SHOULD be FREE".

Howard Mustoe, a BBC business reporter, wrote: "It can't be overestimated how important the FOIA is. It's much weaker than the US one and shouldn't be weakened more."

Mike Dodd, editor of PA Media Lawyer, wrote: "I'm signing because I believe in open government and transparency; Government, national and local, should be open to proper scrutiny by the people who elect representatives and pay for the bureaucracy. The servants should be accountable to the masters."

Oxford Mail editor Simon O'Neill said: "The Freedom of Information Act has been crucial in my work as a journalist, uncovering stories of great public interest which would otherwise have never seen the light of day."

Explaining his reasons for signing the petition, Freddy Mayhew, news editor of the Newham Recorder, said: "Who wants to live in a society where government bodies not only don't want to share information that is in the public interest but actually don't have to? The FoI request has become a vital tool in the free press' toolbox when scrutinising the people and organisations claiming to serve the public. The ability to carry out effective scrutiny is integral to a free society."

Exaro editor Mark Watts: "FOIA is a useful tool to help hold power to account, as has often been demonstrated by Exaro. The debate should be about how to strengthen FOIA, not undermine it. The fact that governments do not like FOIA is a very good indicator as to why the rest of us should."

The Society of Editors has urged journalists to respond to the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information consultation with evidence of Freedom of Information requests which have exposed waste and made a difference.

The deadline for responses to the FoI Commission is 20 November. Full details about how to respond are here.

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