ACCESS TO INFORMATION ACT UNDER THREAT
IPI reports that the government has initiated a public consultation to examine proposed changes to the Act that would cut down the number of access to information requests and save money. The public consultation, which began in December 2006, ends on 8 March 2007.
Currently, the Act requires government officials to answer requests if the cost of finding the information does not exceed £450 (US$880) for public authorities or £650 (US$1,275) for government departments. Any requests over those amounts can be denied.
According to an October 2006 study conducted by a government consultant, the government annually spends £35 million (US$68.6 million) to process approximately 120,000 requests.
If enacted, the amendment would severely inhibit the ability of journalists and media organisations to carry out investigative journalism, warns IPI.
In a separate development, a Member of Parliament (MP) has introduced a bill seeking to exempt all correspondence between MP's and local authorities from the Act. According to MP David Maclean, the main reason for the bill is to prevent MPs' letters on behalf of constituents from being released to the media and to the public.
However, ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship say the exemption would only serve to shield elected officials from further scrutiny and accountability. "If the bill becomes law, a farcical scenario will ensue where all correspondence on a matter of public policy - say, the closure of a hospital - will be available under the Act - except for MPs' correspondence."
Visit these links:
- IPI: http://tinyurl.com/2j5aok
- ARTICLE 19: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/united-kingdom-foia-act-pr.pdf
- Index on Censorship: http://www.indexonline.org/
- Campaign for Freedom of Information: http://www.cfoi.org.uk/feesproposals.html
- Press Gazette: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/article/180107/foi_campaign_intro
- Guide to UK's Freedom of Information Act: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/foi/0,,442882,00.html