Channel 4: FoI should be more open

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Channel 4 commissioning editor for news and current affairs Kevin Sutcliffe and Five News editor Mark Calvert have both voiced their concerns about the proposed changes to FoI.

Channel 4 has used FoI in a number of cases, most recently into the Dispatches exposé fronted by Observer journalist Antony Barnett into the Government’s dealings over super casinos.

Sutcliffe (right) said: “In general, FoI has been good for us and anything that is going to restrict that is a bad thing. We would actually say that FoI could be more open.

“It’s pretty safe to say that it is regularly a useful tool for journalists and that it has been a significant advance to both journalistic endeavour and — you could argue if you’re being high-minded — democracy.” For a programme such as Dispatches that often features films of an investigative nature, FoI provided the ability to extract from Government ministries documents, details of meetings and parliamentary questions.

He argued that FoI had limits, as on occasion journalists were granted information that had been redacted for various reasons. Sutcliffe said: “You might get the sense that you know a bit more about the subject you were trying to find out about, but the document you are given through FoI isn’t as helpful because it has been edited for various reasons.” He also admitted there had been an issue with time wasting with FoI that was primarily caused by people deluging departments which have to abide by strict rules on how to respond and react to requests, which slows up the process.

The editor of Five News, Mark Calvert, has lent his support to Press Gazette’s campaign. Calvert said: “These proposed changes leave me much more concerned for our viewers than for broadcasters. We’re only acting on their behalf, and the changes will rob people of the information that the Act is supposed to give them access to. “If we can’t use the Act to the full, we’ll be seriously hampered in scrutinising issues of enormous public concern. “I applaud what Press Gazette is trying to do. If the petition succeeds, it’ll be useful for broadcast journalists — but absolutely vital for the people of Britain.”

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