FOI: Defending the right to know
Journalists, politicians and academics come together to raise the alarm.
The NUJ campaigns to defend and expand the existing provisions and entitlements set out in the UK's Freedom of Information Act (FOI). This is a core piece of legislation that is linked to the principles set out in the union's ethical code of conduct.
The NUJ code of conduct was first established in 1936. It is the only ethical code for journalists written by journalists. The code is part of the union rules; members support the code and strive to adhere to its professional principles. The ethics code states:
"A journalist at all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed."
In addition to the code, the union believes that it is the duty of journalists to hold the powerful to account. This duty can involve gathering and obtaining information that can verify or refute allegations relating to dangers that threaten the public, abuses of power or serious crimes and misconduct.
The FOI legislation has been vital for journalists working in the public interest across all sectors of the media industry including broadcasting and print, as well as national, regional and local outlets.
The Freedom of Information Act came into force in Britain a decade and a half ago. The Act has also proved to be a crucial tool for citizens to hold government, at all levels, to account. But FOI is under threat.
Responses to Freedom of Information requests are at an all-time low. There is evidence that FOI requests are being screened and blocked.
openDemocracy has been investigating the erosion of our right to information.
As part of the campaign, the NUJ has called on journalists in the UK to submit Subject Access Requests, in order to establish just how the government is centrally managing Freedom of Information applications from the media, and what information they are holding about journalists and their requests.
An online petition has been launched:
On Tuesday 20 April, an online public meeting to discuss the threats to FOI and our right to know was organised by SOAS ICOP and openDemocracy, supported by the NUJ.
A panel of politicians and FOI experts explored the challenges facing Freedom of Information in Britain and asked what can be done to protect the public's right to know. The speakers included:
- Peter Geoghegan, investigations editor, openDemocracy
- Professor Alison Scott-Baumann, project lead, SOAS ICOP
- Lord Clark, former Cabinet Office minister responsible for producing White Paper that led to the Freedom of Information Act 2000
- David Davis, Conservative MP and former Brexit secretary
- Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary, National Union of Journalists
- Jenna Corderoy, investigative reporter, openDemocracy
- Dr Ben Worthy, senior lecturer Birkbeck University, author of the Politics of Freedom of Information
- John McDonnell, Labour MP and former shadow chancellor
You can now watch the event online: