Newspapers join forces and tell David Cameron not to water down Freedom of Information law

The Government has threatened to weaken the public's right to know

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Indy Politics

The UK’s major national newspaper groups have joined forces and told the Government not to water down freedom of information transparency laws.

The Government is threatening to de-claw the Freedom of Information Act, which allows members of the public to request information from the Government, subject to certain constraints.

Newspapers, including the Independent, Guardian, the Daily Mail, Metro, Evening Standard, the Sun, Times, Telegraph and Mirror group, signed a letter addressed to the Prime Minister.

The letter raises “serious concerns” that the Government is aiming to undermine freedom of information law, which is used by journalists and campaigners to hold the Government to account.

“We regard the FOI Act as a vital mechanism of accountability which has transformed the public’s rights to information and substantially improved the scrutiny of public authorities,” the letter reads.

The newspaper companies were amongst 140 organisations to sign the letter, organised by the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

The website Welfare Weekly, which used freedom of information law to reveal the use of fake benefit claimant testimonials was also amongst other organisations to sign the letter the letter.

Campaign groups that use the law to hold the government to account – including the British Deaf Association, Corruption Watch, the Campaign for Better Transport, and Greenpeace all signed the letter.

The Government announced a Freedom of Information Commission earlier this year to look at how the public’s right to know can be watered down.

 

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Michael Gove set up the Freedom of Information Commission to re-visit the Act

The inquiry was set up after ministers and officials complained about having to follow the transparency rules.

The Commission could see the act undermined by changing cost limits or allowing officials to include time spent “thinking about” answering a request for information in their cost limit calculation, among other proposals.

There are also concerns that people appointed to the FOI commission have previously expressed strong views that it should be watered down.

 

The announcement comes as ministers said their ability to keep things secret from the public was facing “worrying” erosion.

"I think it is absolutely vital that we ensure that the advice civil servants give to ministers of whatever government is protected, so civil servants can speak candidly and offer advice in order to ensure ministers do not make mistakes,” Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary said.

 

 

“I think there has been a worrying tendency in our courts and elsewhere to erode that safe space for policy advice. I think we do need to revisit the Freedom of Information Act, absolutely.”

It was reported earlier this month that the inquiry would not itself be subject to freedom of information.

The Financial Times reported earlier this year that Downing Street automatically deletes its emails after three months, a policy which makes it harder to use freedom of information.

Freedom of information has helped uncover stories including the Prince Charles ‘black spider’ memos, MPs expenses, problems with A&E performance, and disability benefit death statistics.

It is also used on a daily basis by campaigners at a local level to hold institutions to account.

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