The Daily Mail has today devoted four pages to coverage to the Freedom of Information Act, condemning public sector attempts to weaken it.
The Mail’s front page headline today asks: "JUST WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE?"
The sub-headline says: "You pay their wages. But the so-called public servants who run councils, the NHS and police are uniting to keep you in the dark about their greed, incompetence and corruption."
Many of the public organisations have called for the introduction of fees for making FoI requests and the shortening of time limits on the act, in order to make it easier for them to refuse to answer questions. Others have condemned “lazy journalism” and the way reporters have used the act to cause “reputational damage” to them.
These revelations were followed by anger from the journalism industry, including The Daily Telegraph, which condemned attempts to weaken the act as “a grotesque attack on democracy”.
In an editorial today, the Mail said: “Let’s not mince words. The attempt to water down FoI is an insidious conspiracy by a political and bureaucratic elite, paid by us, desperate to cover their backsides and terrified of being held to account. What better way of achieving this than by restricting your right to know?
“But the real losers, of course, will be the public, for whom this Act is their surest defence against waste, maladministration and corruption.
“When he became Prime Minister, David Cameron said: ‘It’s our ambition to be one of the most transparent governments in the world, open about what we do and, crucially, about what we spend.’
“He should prove it – by extending the scope of FoI, instead of throttling it.”
As well as running the story on page one and half of page two, the Mail also ran a double-page spread on pages six and seven under the headline: “YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW UNDER ATTACK”.
On these pages, it reports how NHS bodies have asked for the act to be weakened and on the commission submission of Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail.
The double-page also highlights several stories that have been brought to light as a result of the FoI Act.
Jonathan Isaby, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, told the Mail: “Who do they think they are? It’s disgraceful for a council to be making the misleading and emotive claim that making information available to the public means less money for looking after the elderly and vulnerable.”
The newspaper also quotes Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron as saying: “Freedom of Information is vital and councils, universities and public bodies should not be calling for less transparency.”
Elsewhere, The Daily Telegraph today reports Conservative MP David Davis as condemning the submissions of public sector organisations also.
He said: “It's hyperbole and exaggerated shroud-waving which will not enhance their cause. It is self-interested and wrong.
"The Justice Committee in the House of Commons said that no matter what it costs, the effect of having one makes every service is much more efficient. It ends up saving money."