Press Gazette petition gives minister Matthew Hancock more than 10,000 reasons not to weaken FoI

More than 10,000 have now signed Press Gazette petition urging the Government not to weaken the Freedom of Information Act.

The petition was launched as part of the Society of Editors’ Hands Off FoI campaign following the creation of the Government’s Independent Commission on Freedom of Information.

Heather Brooke, the journalist whose FoI request paved the way for the release of MPs’ expenses in 2009, is among those backing the campaign.

In an email sent out to Change.org subscribers to promote the petition she said: “The FoI request I made led to an overhaul of the way MPs can spend public money – it was also the beginning of forging a new relationship between citizens and the state. 

"A lot of good can come of freedom of information. This is why I believe it is absolutely vital not only to fight off this scurrilous attack on the FoI law, but push for it to be strengthened and enforced.

"There are serious problems with stubborn and powerful elites who refuse to accept that in a democracy the public have a right to know. Don’t let them get away with keeping the truth from you. Sign the petition and support the campaign to keep FoI strong."

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.

The commission’s terms of reference include six questions that appear to be weighted towards weakening the act for requestors.

Questions one, two and three of the commission consultation ask whether there is sufficient protection for internal deliberations at public bodies. Question four asks whether the government should have a veto over the release of information. Question five asks what is the appropriate enforcement and appeal system for FoI requests and question six asks whether controls are needed to reduce the FoI burden on public authorities.

The consultation document does not ask whether the act should be strengthened or broadened.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information believes that the consultation, which closes on 20 November, could lead to the imposition of fees for FoI requests for the first time.

Those signing the petition include journalist Lawrence Webb who said: “FoI should be freely available to all journalists, from keen youngsters on free weekly papers who could earn more working in McDonald's to national newspaper staffers with expense accounts. Don't erode the power of this relatively new democratic right to uncover misdeeds, ineptitude, negligence and wrongdoing by charging for it."

Others to sign the Change.org petition are members of the public such as Zoe Syson from Farmfield, who said: “As a parent of a child with Autism i nearly used the FOI Act to support my child's educational placement and i know many parents in a similar position have and found it very valuable when gathering evidence to support cases.”

Press Gazette's 'Don't weaken the Freedom of Information Act' petition is addressed to Matthew Hancock MP, the minister with responsibility for Freedom of Information.

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