No FOI legal restrictions welcomed by NUJ
2 March 2016
The NUJ has welcomed the statement by Matt Hancock, Cabinet Office minister for FOI, confirming the government "will not make any legal changes" to the Freedom of Information Act.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:
"This decision is a welcome recognition of the importance of Freedom of Information. It is also a vindication of our campaign, which was widely supported by trade unions, civic society groups, media organisations and the public. As part of our democratic process, citizens should be able to have access to information about public spending and decisions made on their behalf by political representatives and public bodies. As part of the media, we’ve been able to successfully uphold and defend the right of the public to be informed. The NUJ applauds the continuing efforts of all journalists who seek to use the Act for the benefit of society.
"The Freedom of Information Act continues to enhance our democracy and informs public debate. We are pleased the Commission and the Minister have not attempted to dismantle the existing and essential legal provisions and we hope that there are no further attempts to undermine the concept of open government."
The NUJ has been part of the UK campaign to oppose potential legal restrictions and the union’s ethics code clearly states that a journalist should uphold and defend the right of the public to be informed. As a consequence, the NUJ has been a great supporter of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and as part of the latest campaign efforts, the union joined forces with 38 Degrees to mobilize NUJ members and the public to defend the current legal framework. As part of the campaign the union helped to set up an online tool to encourage people to respond to the Commission’s public consultation - out of a total of 30,000 responses, our joint campaign with 38 Degrees involved 28,835 people submitting feedback and evidence.
The Commission report, published on Tuesday 1 March, includes a range of recommendations: It has proposed to remove the right of appeal for FOI requests and the NUJ does not support this recommendation.
The Commission has endorsed calls for FOI to cover public service providers but the recommendation includes limiting FOI on the basis of costs. The NUJ welcomes this move to expand the FOI provisions but the union will continue to call on the government to apply FOI across all public services providers. We want to know how private companies are spending public money - extend #FOI - sign the 38 Degrees petition.
The Commission has also proposed to encourage authorities to use the provisions in the FOI Act on vexatious requests. This is a concerning recommendation and it will be closely monitored by the NUJ. In February 2015 the union called the Metropolitan Police behaviour "outrageous" when they banned Press Gazette from requesting information about its use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to spy on journalists. At the time the Met said it has the right to refuse "vexatious requests… which are intended to be annoying or disruptive or which have a disproportionate impact on a public authority".