Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Freedom of Information Act

In our latest law lecture, we discussed the Freedom of Information Act. This act is of particular interest to Journalists because, if used correctly, it can be a particularly useful means of gathering interesting data and stories from organisations in the public sector. Any person making a request for information to a public authority is entitled to be told whether the authority holds this information and is also entitled to see it. Finding interesting information using this act is perfect for constructing newspaper stories that are of genuine interest to the public.

Unfortunately, a large majority of the act is taken up by exemption. Any information on the military / national security, for example, cannot be obtained. As Journalists it's particularly important to steer away from anything that could be defined as a security risk. Confidentiality is also another hurdle.

When the act came in so too did the idea of a 'sofa government'. Essentially, this meant that vents of importance were discussed rather than printed in reports. This is a hindrance to Journalists, as they can only ask for information that has been recorded in some form. In the lecture, we ran through the process one must go through to gather information using the Freedom of Information Act:
  • In the Act, every organisation needs a Freedom of Information officer
  • Step 1 will consist of writing a letter to this individual, asking that under the information act does he/she/ keep documents on ______ and if so can you see it
  • At this point, you could easily be denied such information. There are a number of reasons why this could be the case. The organisation has a right to say that they could gather that information if necessary, yet it would be too costly to justify.
  • To reduce the chances of your request being rejected, think about getting information that isn't too expensive to gather
  • If denied, you could appeal. The appeal is handled by the Information Commission.

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