Freedom of Information

Government plans to undermine the FOI Act condemned

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NEWS RELEASE

RELEASE DATE: 21 November 2015

Government plans to water down the Freedom of Information Act and restrict its use by journalists have been condemned as a threat to investigative journalism.

The Chartered Institute of Journalists said the Government’s proposals were a blatant attempt to shut down embarrassing and difficult questions and were a clear threat to the public’s right to know.

President Paul Leighton said it was hard to believe that any Government which claimed to believe in Freedom of Speech could set out to reduce information about public bodies and government departments. “The Freedom of Information Act has blown a welcome gust of fresh air down the corridors of power and shone a light in some rather murky corners.”

“A government with nothing to hide should have no fears about the use of the FOI Act to put material in the public domain.  Tax-payers have a right to know what they paid for and is done in their name”

And Leighton has urged members of the CIoJ to back the Press Gazette’s campaign against the Government plans by signing the petition against plan the Gazette has launched online.

He added “The Justice Secretary claims that journalists are misusing or abusing the FoI Act. He’s wrong; they’re using it as it was intended – to make the activities of government and public authorities open to public scrutiny.”

Note to Editors:

The CIoJ’s submission to the consultation on the Freedom of Information Act (2000)

Formed in 1884, the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) is the world’s oldest established professional body for journalists, and a representative voice of media and communications professionals throughout the UK and the Commonwealth.

CIoJ congratulates Independent campaign

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The CIoJ has written to the Editor of the Independent congratulating their successful campaign to free Afghan journalist Sayed Pervez Kambaksh.

Letter to the Editor;

Dear Sir,

The Chartered Institute of Journalists would like to congratulate you on your determined campaign to free Afghan journalist, Sayed Pervez Kambaksh.

As journalists we often walk a difficult path and this is more dangerous as we pursue our professional duty to expose corruption, illegal practices, human rights’ abuses and express our support for victims of oppression.

Sadly most people forget this when they judge journalists and the profession and we were delighted to see the Independent fighting to support journalists like Sayed Pervez Kambaksh.

Congratulations once again,

Dominic Cooper

General Secretary

Chartered Institute of Journalists, 2 Dock Offices

Surrey Quays Road, London SE16 2XU

FIGHT FOR THOSE WHO CAPTURE NEWS EVENTS ON WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY

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ON THE OCCASION of World Press Freedom Day, the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) challenges the media industry to unite against police interference when professional press photographers attempt to record news events.

New Anti terrorism rules mean that press photographers now face jail for taking pictures of police or the armed forces. In addition to this, there has been an increasing record of attempts by the police to restrict what is recorded at public order incidents.

Incidents at the recent G20 summit highlight the vital role of photographers and cameramen who act as the public’s eyes and ears at these incidents.

For years our members have been stopped or hindered in their attempts to record incidents by Police either acting as moral arbitrators or, latterly, abusing anti-terrorism laws. Now, after a change in those terrorism laws, Press photographers can face jail for taking a picture that shows a policeman or member of the armed forces.

Although it may be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he or she is a professional news-gathering journalist carrying a National Press Card or other acceptable identification, the CIoJ believes this is not enough.

On World Press Freedom Day we are calling for the Police to recognize the law they uphold and accept that it is the right of photographers to take pictures in any public place. Britain should be leading the world in ensuring true democracy and open speech and not curtail the free press which is fundamental to our human rights.

A photographer carrying Press accreditation should be allowed to do his job in the same way as the police officer.

It is simply not acceptable to clear the matter up afterwards when cameras have been seized or photographers have spent hours in a police cell instead of filing the pictures which capture the news.

1. World Press Freedom Day (May 3) is a day to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

2. May 3 was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a Recommendation adopted at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991. It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom – a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.

More barriers to journalists’ investigative rights

Posted on by CIoJ in Freedom of Information, OSCE, Professionalism | Leave a comment

John Szemerey reports from Brussels on the recent OSCE survey on freedom of information

Governments should give journalists a legal shield against over-enthusiastic prosecutors and judges who want to force them to reveal their sources. They should also ensure that free access to information was a reality and that the classification ‘secret’ was only used for a limited period and for real secrets whose unauthorized release would have serious consequences. These are the principle recommendations of the unprecedented survey, the first in the world, on access to information by the media. This survey is of the 56 countries of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

The 450-page survey report was launched on May 2, the eve of World Press Freedom Day, at a press conference in Brussels, by Miklos Haraszti, OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media. He was supported by Belgium’s ambassador to the OSCE, Bernard de Crombrugghe, and David Banisar of Privacy International who analysed the replies to the survey.

Societies have more access to information than ever before, said Haraszti in presenting the results of the survey. “But weak laws and prosecution against the media diminish journalists’ investigative abilities. In the past 10 years, most OSCE nations have passed good basic laws to balance the rights of the public to know with governments’ classification needs. However, in most countries this balance is upset when it comes to journalists’ daily struggle with secrecy.”

Four issues

The survey covers four basic issues relating to journalists’ access to government data. These are: freedom of information laws, classification rules (what is a secret?), punitive laws and practices in case of breach of secrecy, and protection of journalists’ confidential sources.

On freedom of information (FOI), Haraszti said that FOI laws are in vigour in 80 per cent of the 56 OSCE states, including established democracies like the UK, Switzerland and Germany, and new democracies like Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan.

The report recommends that:

“All participating states should adopt freedom of information legislation that gives a legal right to all persons and organizations to demand and obtain information from public bodies and from those who are performing public functions. Individuals should also have a right to access and correct all personal information held about themselves.

“Public bodies should be required in law to respond promptly to all requests for information. Requests for information that are time-sensitive or relate to an imminent threat to health or safety should be responded to immediately. The process for requesting information should be simple and free or low-cost.”

Classification rules should be thoroughly revised so state secrets are defined as narrowly as possible, and the definition “secret” should be limited only to data that directly relates to the “security of the state and where unauthorized release would have identifiable and serious consequences.”

If secrets are too broadly defined, Haraszti added, “then you have a problem.”

Too many states do not differentiate between officials and others in “breach of secrecy” cases. In the view of the report’s authors, “criminal and civil code prohibitions should only apply to officials and others who have a specific legal duty to maintain confidentiality. The media and ‘whistleblowers’ who disclose secret information of public interest to the media should not be subject to legal and other sanctions. The test of public interest in publication should become an integral part of jurisprudence on disclosure of information.”

The irony about the principle of protection of journalists’ sources is that most nations recognize its importance and mention it somewhere in their legislation. “But this is mostly lip service”, said Haraszti, and in practice only some 20 countries have an effective shield to protect journalists from being forced to reveal their sources.

However, the survey discloses, it is in these 20 countries that prosecutors are most active against journalists.

The report’s position was clear: “Each participating state should adopt an explicit law on protection of sources to ensure these rights are recognized and protected.”

Opposite direction

While societies have more access to information than ever before, four OSCE countries were moving in the opposite direction, withdrawing openness. They are the USA, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Bulgaria. The UK government is among the worst offenders, in trying to reduce the media’s and the public’s access to information. (See the article in the March 2007 issue of The Journal.) Indeed, Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, has been quoted as saying that “Freedom of information was never considered to be, and for our part will never be considered to be, a research arm for the media.”

The US is criticised by the report for its use of ‘Executive Privilege’ to reduce access to data on internal decision-making. It is also criticised for its failure to have a federal law that protects journalists from being forced to reveal their sources. In contrast, 49 US states have a law giving good protection to journalists. Congress is trying to resolve both these problems. An Open Government Bill is on its way through Congress to deal with the access to information issue. However, legislation to enact in law journalists’ protection of sources has for some time been blocked in the legislature.

The survey in full, including the overall results, and the results country by country, can be seen on the OSCE’s website at:

http://www.privacyinternational.org/foi/OSCE-access-analysis .pdf . A summary of preliminary results of the survey can be found at: http://www.osce.org/documents/rfm/2007/05/24250_en.pdf