Tony Harcup, University of Sheffield, urges academics to tell the government #HandsOffFOI…
Anyone using or teaching about the Freedom of Information Act will be alarmed that the British Government has set up a commission to look into ways of restricting access to information, including slapping a charge on every FOI request. Tony Harcup of the University of Sheffield reports
These proposals seem to have been sprung on people – they were not mentioned in the Conservative manifesto – with consultation ending on 20 November 2015. But before then there is still time for journalism departments and/or individuals with experience of FOI to submit evidence about why the Act should not be watered down just 10 years after coming into force.
Four members of staff at the University of Sheffield have done just that and they are urging others to follow suit.
In a joint submission to the Commission on Freedom of Information, Jonathan Grun, Tony Harcup, Mark Hanna and David Holmes write:
“Since the Act came into force journalism students at the University of Sheffield have been taught how to use it to uncover information in the public interest. They are taught to use it responsibly, not frivolously, and as an additional mechanism for seeking and checking information rather as a substitute for other reporting methods. As a result of their use of the Act they have revealed important information, first as students, then as students on work experience in newsrooms, and subsequently in their careers as journalists. The development of such expertise in using the Act to uncover information in the public interest would have been severely hampered, if not rendered impossible, by the introduction of fees for FOI requests.”
The four hackademics conclude:
“If complying with the Act is placing a burden on public authorities then one of the most effective ways of reducing such a burden is for them to publish as a matter of routine far more of the information they hold, thereby rendering FOI requests unnecessary in many cases.”