If I can just be very brief and I am very happy to be sitting
alongside my colleague who has worked very closely with all other media organisations, some of whom you have heard from in great detail.
The Society of Editors has about 400 members across the whole of the media, so we have a fair amount of evidence, much of it anecdotal, of course, from across the media.
Our basic concern has been that any review of this kind should be more about trying to make sure that the way forward for FOI, which we believe quite clearly the evidence shows has worked very well on behalf of the public and I believe, actually, on behalf of public authorities, certainly when I sat on an Information Users Group within the Ministry of Justice, we had very similar questions to those being raised now and points which have been raised now about the burden and so on, and that was dealt with.
What we found at that time was that, when in discussion, many people from the health service, local government, the police, actually realised that it could be of an advantage to them to release more information and the problem was that there was the culture in the past had been that very little information was released but if you released a lot more information, you got a lot fewer questions actually and I think that is the position we are at now.
I think there are certain areas which, where FOI needs to be extended, certainly into the area where there are organisations which are acting on behalf of government and other public authorities and I came in earlier on when you were having evidence from a university — a university spends
an awful lot of public money and it is dear to everyone’s hearts and the idea that they should be taken out of it just seems to me to be quite wrong.
We already accept that there are plenty of areas of — and I understand why there are areas where FOI should not apply, for instance to do with individual privacy and commercial confidentiality and so on.
Going on to the burden, I do understand some of the points which are made there but we get, from our members, the view that, quite often, some are authorities, whether it is local authorities or the police have in fact increased their own burden by in fact saying — instead of just answering a journalist’s query through the press office, they have said actually “put in a Freedom of Information request” when it could actually be easily dealt with just answering the question.
There was one police authority, police force actually, which said: we are in competition with the media, you know, we want to get our information onto our website before the papers and the telly and so on. I said: of course you do, but I am not sure the public will see it as being totally independent information.
I think also, if you look at the cost of public relations across the public sector, it was huge compared to the cost that anyone can identify for answering Freedom of Information requests. At one point I seem to remember that the Press Gazette, the trade paper, did actually do a survey about the number of people in Government and public sector press offices and I think that almost every journalist had a personal press officer. So, you know, there is a huge cost there already.
But I think really what it comes down to, our view -