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”.
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”.
David Higgerson, head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals, regularly blogs about Freedom of Information requests, from best practice advice to what he’s learned thanks to FOI requests each week.
In his latest post he warns that there is a danger that journalists may “default to FOI” too often, which can have an impact on the quality of the results they get. In order to get the best responses he suggests posing a series of questions to yourself before requesting the information. In summary they are:
Is this information available elsewhere?
Will they release the information to me without going through FOI?
Is there another way of getting this information?
Do I need to think about jargon in my FOI request?
Are there examples of the information being released elsewhere?
What reasons for refusal could a public body come up with?
Both the Guardian and Herald carry pieces today marking five years since the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act became law.
The Herald reflects on the impact of the Scottish Act, while the Guardian recalls some memorable stories uncovered through use of the legislation.
But, as the Guardian suggests, there are still problems for journalists using the act:
[J]ournalists have also criticised the act as a bureaucratic waste of time and money, with requesters complaining that important information is all too often redacted or withheld by authorities who are keenly aware of the news value of the material they hold (…) Some believe Whitehall and government ministers are getting bolder in manipulating the delays in order to scupper an already weakened FOI law. “It will take a huge scandal to get up steam for a reformed ‘strong’ law,” warns one reporter. “In the meantime, ministers are busy weakening it even further.”
On the other hand, are journalists bringing the act into disrepute through the stories they choose to use it for?
Olivier Laurent’s extensive report into the use of the terrorism act against photographers suggests that many British police forces have been permitted use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to stop and search individuals, including photographers – with Derbyshire’s force, so far, being the only exception.
The British Journal of Photography (BJP) filed 46 Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to chief constables in Britain to determine whether they had requested permission to use the section of the Act in their regions.
A number of forces declined the information requests, according to BJP.
“[C]ounties including Cumbria, Essex, Hertfordshire, Merseyside, and Surrey all declined to answer, claiming that although there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations, release of any details regarding the use of S44 could threaten the health and safety of the public and the police force itself,” reports Laurent.