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  1. Media Law
August 9, 2017

Figures reveal Scottish Government more likely to reject journalists’ FoI requests

By Freddy Mayhew

Freedom of Information (FoI) requests from journalists to the Scottish Government are being refused at a higher rate than those from other applicants, according to figures obtained by Scottish Labour.

It comes as a network of activists and campaign groups dedicated to open government has called on Scotland to review the “effectiveness” of its freedom of information laws.

The new figures, which cover seven full financial years, reveal that the Scottish Government failed to meet the 20-day statutory deadline to respond for between 20 to 32 per cent of all requests tabled.

They also refused to release information in part or in full between 35 and 49 per cent of the time, the Sunday Herald has reported.

The refusal rate for requests by the media was higher in every year.

In 2015/16, 38 per cent of all FoI requests from any section of society were partially or fully refused, rising to 47 per cent for journalists alone. Last year refusals were at 35 per cent overall and 37 per cent for the media.

Neil Findlay MSP told the Herald: “These laws are supposed to increase transparency and accountability of government, but the handling of freedom of information requests in recent times has all the hallmarks of a secretive government desperate to dodge scrutiny.”

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Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, public authorities must respond to requests within 20 working days of receiving them. Enforcement is overseen by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “In the majority of cases, the Scottish Government responds on time and in full to FOI requests.

“The increasing volume and complexity of some requests can, however, prove time consuming and has the potential to impact seriously on the work of government.

“The number of FOI requests we receive has risen by almost half in recent years with more than 2,000 requests now regularly made each year.

“We are working with the Information Commissioner to ensure we continue to provide information in as timely a way as possible, and now proactively publish FOI responses on the Scottish Government website.”

Sunday Herald editor Neil Mackay, told Press Gazette the higher rate of refusal in relation to journalists’ FoI requests was a “worry”.

“It should be a worry to any newspaper,” he said.

“If we are going to have a strong and thriving democracy it needs to be transparent and journalists need to have full access to all publicly available information, otherwise the bedrock of democracy is bring chipped away.”

He added: “We will continue digging away, not just trying to get stories through but also investigating just how well the FoI Act legislation is being applied. It needs to be upheld and implemented to the letter.

Mackay said 2,000 FoI requests over a year “isn’t a lot” and that the Scottish Government should “get on” with handling them.

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