Back in March, then Prime Minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown pledged his commitment to supporting freedom of the press when he addressed industry figures at a Journalists’ Charity lunch.
He told them: ‘It’s easy for politicians to say one thing and do another – but I do think we should defend British liberties and that we can be a beacon for the world with the contribution our press makes.”
This week Brown proved that he is as good as his word when he scrapped proposals that would drastically water down the Freedom of Information Act by allowing public authorities to reject far more requests on cost grounds.
With its many caveats and exclusions – the Freedom of Information Act is far from perfect. But it has undoubtedly shifted the balance away from a culture of public secrecy towards one of openness.
The proposed FoI fees regime would undoubtedly have tilted the balance back the other way – giving faceless functionaries the power to bat away FoI requests with impunity – the way they could do with any press inquiry before the act came into force just under three years ago.
It is also fantastic news for journalists – and for an open society – that Brown has decided to scrap plans to greatly increase secrecy in Coroner’s Courts.
The proposals would have given coroners the power to ban journalists from naming the deceased in reports of inquests effectively making such proceedings secret.
Gordon Brown may have annoyed many journalists with favouritism to the BBC over his announcement that a general election was off and with the apparent spin which surrounded that period.
But he deserves all journalists’ thanks for two announcements this week which have huge positive implications for press freedom.