Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer has illustrated once again that he has only the dimmest understanding of the way journalism works. It’s a scary thought, considering the huge influence the Department for Constitutional Affairs has on our working lives.
Defending plans currently under consideration by the Government to massively increase the number of Freedom of Information requests thrown out on cost grounds, he perversely told an audience of lawyers last week that the “Freedom of Information Act is one of the greatest reforms for which this Government will rightly be remembered.”
And defending his proposals to, in the words of the Newspaper Society, “neuter” the act for journalists, he said: “The Government did not introduce freedom of information in order to do something ‘for journalism’.
We did it for the public.
“The job of the Government is not to provide page leads for the papers, but information for the citizen.
Freedom of information was never considered to be, and for our part will never be considered to be, a research arm for the media.”
What Falconer apparently doesn’t understand is that journalists are in large part honest agents, acting on behalf of ordinary citizens – their readers – who don’t have the time themselves to do the work of holding public authorities to account.
Thank God that we live in a society where commercial news organisations are willing to pay people to spend large parts of their day filing requests for information to Government on everything from the hygiene inspections at local restaurants to details of the advice to the Prime Minister on the legality of his invasion of Iraq.
We are not some malign commercial force acting outside society, as Falconer appears to believe, but an important and intrinsic part of the civic democracy which he is paid to uphold.