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October 29, 2015

Minister Chris Grayling: FoI misused ‘as a research tool to generate stories for the media… that isn’t acceptable’

By William Turvill and Press Association

A Cabinet minister has accused journalists of "misusing" Freedom of Information laws to "generate" stories.

Commons Leader Chris Grayling (pictured, Reuters) criticised journalists for using the Freedom of Information Act as a "research tool" and said it should be used for "those who want to understand why and how Government is taking decisions".

His comments have angered FoI campaigners and the media. Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, which is leading the Hands Off FoI campaign, said: "It ridiculous to suggest that journalists are misusing the Act.

"It was designed to inform the public and that is precisely what the media do.

"Politicians are usually quick to proclaim their belief in freedom of the press.

"It is very worrying that such a senior minister seems incapable of understanding the role of the media in a democratic society.

"He should look at the amazing range of scandals exposed by journalists using FoI." 

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The Government has set up an FOI Commission to review the scope of existing laws, which permit members of the public, journalists and campaigners to access information.

The Government, police forces and hospital trusts are among those covered by existing FOI laws, although campaigners fear the commission will recommend increasing the cost of requests and limiting its scope.

During the business question in the Commons, Grayling said: "The person who said they regretted the Freedom of Information Act most was (Labour former Cabinet minister) Jack Straw who introduced it.

"He said he looked back upon it as one of the things he got wrong.

"The truth is the Freedom of Information Act is something this Government is committed to but we want to make sure it works well and fairly, it cannot be abused, it cannot be misused.

"It is on occasions misused by those who use it effectively as a research tool to generate stories for the media.

"That isn't acceptable.

"It is a legitimate and important tool for those who want to understand why and how Government is taking decisions and it is not the intention of this Government to change that."

He was replying to Labour's Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington), who said: "In a free society freedom of information is essential.

"Public bodies are public and should always be publicly accountable and the powerful must always be held to account.

"Do you therefore understand the concern being expressed in Birmingham and by the Birmingham Post and Mail over the threat now to freedom of information and will you agree to an urgent debate on what is a threat to a cornerstone of our democracy?"

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