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Newspaper Society: Justice select committee calls for evidence on FOI Act

January 12th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Legal

The Newspaper Society issued a reminder this morning that the justice select committee has made a call for evidence on “the operation” of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – as part of its “post-legislative scrutiny” of the law.

The call for evidence was issued in December, but written evidence can still be submitted until Friday, 3 February.

The committee has asked for feedback on three areas in particular (copied below), but adds that those who submit responses are also “welcome to address additional issues”:

  • Does the Freedom of Information Act work effectively?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Freedom of Information Act?
  • Is the Freedom of Information Act operating in the way that it was intended to?

There is more information here on the select committee’s website.

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AP test claims 50% of countries with FOI laws ‘do not follow them’

November 17th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

Of the 105 countries which have laws governing the freedom of information, more than 50 per cent “do not follow them”, according to a test carried out by the Associated Press.

In a report on the findings of its test AP reveals that it sent out requests for information on “terrorism arrests and convictions … to the European Union and the 105 countries with right-to-know laws or constitutional provisions”, to find out how well they follow the rules.

According to its findings a total of just 14 gave complete responses and abided by the set time limit to do so in, while 38 “eventually answered most questions”.

The figures show 51 per cent of countries (a total of 54) approached for information by AP had not given it at the time of writing while 6 per cent “refused to disclose information, citing national security”.

Right-to-know laws seem to work better in some new democracies than older ones, the AP test showed, because their governments can adopt what has worked elsewhere.

Read the full report here.

AP is also asking its audience to send in ideas for more FOI requests they could make elsewhere.

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Petition for Hillsborough papers release exceeds 120,000 signatures

August 24th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Politics

The BBC reported yesterday that an online petition calling for cabinet papers relating to the Hillsborough disaster to be released had collected 100,000 signatures, which is the amount required for the issue to be considered for a debate in parliament.

This number has continued to rise and is currently over the 120,000 mark.

The papers in question are said to contain details of conversations involving former prime minister Margaret Thatcher about the Hillsborough disaster. The BBC originally requested that the papers be released through a freedom of information request two years ago.

Last month the information commissioner Sir Christopher Graham ruled that there was a public interest in the information being released. It also accused the authority of an “excessive delay” in responding to the original request, which was then to deny the release of the information under a series of exemptions.

The Cabinet Office has since appealed the decision, the BBC reports in this article.

Trinity Mirror Regional’s head of multimedia David Higgerson blogs here about the potential impact of the ultimate decision on the government’s claims of transparency and openness.

… it’s only by seeing the documents in full that we’ll know the current government believes in true openness – an openness where the agenda is set by the public, not by the civil servants.

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Can FOI requests be submitted on Twitter? Yes, says ICO

In its monthly newsletter, sent out yesterday (28 July), the Information Commissioners Office sought to clarify an interesting question: whether or not people can use Twitter to submit freedom of information requests. And the answer is yes.

While Twitter is not the most effective channel for submitting or responding to freedom of information requests, this does not mean that requests sent using Twitter are necessarily invalid. They can be valid requests in freedom of information terms and authorities that have Twitter accounts should plan for the possibility of receiving them.

… The ICO has also been asked whether a request in a tweet that only refers to an authority in an @mention, for example @ICOnews, is really directed to and received by that authority. The ICO’s view is that it is. Twitter allows the authority to check for @mentions of itself, and so it has in effect received that request, even though it was not sent directly to the authority like an email or letter.

According to the ICO the key requirement is the request must state the name of the applicant, which may not be shown in the Twitter name but instead in a linked profile.

But the ICO does warn that if the requester does not give their real name, it is technically not a valid freedom of information request.

Whilst the authority may still choose to respond, the requester should be made aware that the Information Commissioner will not be able to deal with any subsequent complaint.

As for an address, as this is difficult given the limited length of a tweet, authorities are reminded they can ask the requester for an email address in order to provide a full response, or publish the requested information, or a refusal notice, on its website and tweet a link to that.

The ICO does add, however, that requesters are encouraged to use this channel responsibly. “If they do not, the authority could consider using the exemptions for vexatious and repeated requests in section 14 of the Freedom of Information Act”, the newsletter entry states.

Hatip: Andy Mabbet, aka pigsonthewing

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David Higgerson: Journalists must keep pushing for open data

May 19th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Data, Editors' pick

David Higgerson, head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals, has published the address he made about data journalism at the FutureEverything conference in Manchester last week, making some interesting points.

Higgerson says that for journalists the biggest challenge is going to keep “pushing” for data to become available.

Councils have to issue details of all spending over £500 – but some councils have decided to publish all spending because it’s cheaper to do so. As journalists, we should push for that to happen everywhere.

FOI is key here. The more we ask for something under FOI because it isn’t freely available, the greater the chance its release will become routine, rather than requested. That’s the challenge for today’s data journalists: Not creating stunning visualisations, but helping to decide what is released, rather than just passively accepting what’s released.

Read his post in full here…

Journalism.co.uk is running a one-day digital journalism conference looking at data in the news industry next week at Thomson Reuters. news:rewired – noise to signal will take place on Friday 27 May. You can find out more information and buy tickets by following this link.

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Budget details held back by Treasury press office

March 25th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

Finance journalist Chris Wheal reports that the Treasury press office will not provide him with figures showing how much worse off families will be as a result of the budget.

Wheal recorded a conversation with a press officer from the Treasury (and then uploaded this to Audioboo) when he called back to double check that the figures, which apply to a graph within the budget report, would not be released to him.

In the conversation Wheal is told the figures are available, but will not be published for two weeks.

Let’s be clear on this: The Treasury knows it must release the figures under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. But it knows that a FOI request allows it 20 working days to respond, so it is delaying by less than that. It is using a freedom of information loophole to delay giving taxpayers information it could – and should – publish instantly.

The Treasury press officer has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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The Lawyer: Harrow Council considers making all FOI data public

Harrow Council is considering plans to proactively publish all information that would be released under an FOI request, reports the Lawyer.

Harrow has seen a 160 per cent increase in the number of FOI requests over the past two years, and Peart believes the move would almost eliminate the cost burden of dealing with FOI requests.

It is estimated that local authorities ­collectively spend £34m handling requests each year.

Full report on the Lawyer at this link.

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BBC News: Hundreds more organisations could be covered by FOI law

January 6th, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal, Politics

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg will tomorrow announce that hundreds more organisations could be made subject to Freedom of Information laws, the BBC reports today.

According to the broadcaster, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the university admissions service UCAS are two bodies to be included.

Mr Clegg will pledge to “restore British freedoms” in his speech on Friday, as part of “our wider project to resettle the relationship between people and government”.

He will say: “Free citizens must be able to hold big institutions and powerful individuals to account – and not only the government. There are a whole range of organisations who benefit from public money and whose activities have a profound impact on the public good.

The Ministry of Justice had previously confirmed to Journalism.co.uk that it was looking at Freedom of Information Act 2000 “to see where we can further increase the openness and transparency of public affairs whilst ensuring that sensitive information is adequately protected”.

At the time the department said the next steps would be announced “in due course”.

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Don’t direct students to file FOI requests to universities, Texas lecturers told

December 6th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Training

From the US last week, but worth reading – a curious situation for journalism academics:

Journalism teachers sometimes instruct students to file such requests under the Texas Public Information Act to gain experience using an important tool for reporters.

But in response to an inquiry from Tarleton State University in Stephenville, an A&M [Texas A&M University] campus about 155 miles north of Austin, the system’s general counsel warned that a faculty member could be disciplined and even fired for directing students to file requests with any of the system’s 12 universities and seven agencies. Faculty members are free to direct students to file requests with other state universities and agencies.

Full story on Statesman.com at this link…

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Is FOI the tool of the lazy journalist?

November 22nd, 2010 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism

We ask the question in response to a blog post from the other side of the equation on the site We Love Local Government, which has published its plans for a ‘Lazy Journalist Index’, rating those journalists who, from a local government communications’ perspective, are “drains on the public purse”.

Full post at this link…

But as one commenter points out:

It’s not about local (or central) government deciding what’s best for us to know, but taxpayers – and that includes journalists – being able to decide and ask for themselves.

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