Wise up to power of Freedom Act…

Scottish Parliament: the FoI Act becomes law next January

Scottish journalists are woefully ignorant about one of the most vital tools given to them in almost 20 years, a leading editor has said.

Speaking at the Society of Editors (Scotland) annual conference, editor and managing director of Northcliffe Electronic Publishing Keith Perch said many journalists weren’t even aware the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) would become law on January 1.

The act will enable reporters and the general public at large to ask for all types of ‘recorded’ information of any date, held by thousands of Scottish public authorities, subject to certain conditions.

But Perch told the Edinburgh conference: “Concerns over the act pale into insignificance compared with our own lack of preparedness.

“Our own ignorance combined with poor training and lack of commitment to get information means we are nowhere near ready.”

He said there was a total lack of training to use a “fantastic tool” to generate stories.

“Although editors seem quite excited about the new FoI Act, I haven’t found a single journalist who knows anything about it,” he said.

He said that as newspapers faced increasing competition from news websites and people searching for information themselves, it was vital the FoI was used as a tool to uncover exclusives few others would have the time or inclination to chase.

Perch said he didn’t believe the internet would kill off newspapers, but he felt that papers would have to adapt.

“That’s not new – we’ve always sought to be first and to have exclusive stories. What’s changed, yet again, is what news we can be first with, what news we can have exclusively.”

And that is where he felt the FoI Act would be vital to reporters.

“It’s another tool that we can use to add exclusivity to the mix that we offer. It will allow us to set the agenda that others will have to follow.”

But he said editors should be training their staff in the implications of the FoI now and make sure they know how to use it.

DAMIAN BATES, DEPUTY EDITOR OF ABERDEEN EVENING EXPRESS

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