View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. Comment
July 16, 2012

New guidelines reveal legal obligation on public authorities and private companies to reveal environmental information to journalists

By Cleland Thom

Journalists may expect to get better results when they request environmental information from public authorities in future.

The Information Commissioner has published guidelines about the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) for the first time.

The regulations stand alongside the Freedom of Information Act and work in the same way. They give the press and public access to all environmental information held by public bodies and companies delivering contracts for them.

Journalists find them useful when they’re researching stories on anything from climate change to GM crops and water pollution to radioactive waste.

Up to now, there’s been very little guidance on when / why public bodies can refuse information requests.

But now, the Information Commissioner has given some advice.

Here’s the basics :

Content from our partners
Publishing on the open web is broken, how generative AI could help fix it
Impress: Regulation, arbitration and complaints resolution
Papermule: Workflow automation for publishers
  1. The ‘default position’ is that authorities must disclose information if journalists ask for it.
  2. The regulations make it hard for an authority refuse a information request.
  3. Public authorities can release business information they hold – without the business’ knowledge or consent.
  4. Authorities cannot ask why a journalist wants information, or be obstructive or secretive because they know what they might do with it.
  5. The information must be accurate and up to date.
  6. They must respond in 20 working days.
  7. The media does not have automatic right to reproduce information they’re given. Check copyright first.
  8. Journalists can make requests by phone. But it’s best to provide written confirmation  to ensure accuracy.
  9. Authorities cannot ‘neither confirm nor deny’ they have information, unless it’s to do with:
  • international relations
  • defence
  • national security or public safety

10. Authorities can refuse a request if it is too general – but they should then ask for a more precise request.

11. Authorities can refuse to hand over information when:

  • It involves personal data.
  • It’s against the public interest. The guidelines point out that the fact the media are  chasing a story does not automatically mean that there is a public interest.
  • The request is unreasonable.
  • Release WILL (not might) have an adverse effect on the course of justice, or someone’s intellectual property rights. But the authority must demonstrate HOW the adverse effect will occurr. Even then, they can only withhold the information that has the adverse effect – nothing else.
  • The information is incomplete, or not available at all.

In short, public authorities should release almost all environmental information to journalists, or anyone else who asks for it – it’s the law.

Cleland Thom is a consultant and trainer in media law

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network