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07 April 2022

NMA Signs Letter Calling For Stronger Transparency In Government

The News Media Association is among the signatories of an openDemocracy letter calling on the Information Commissioner John Edwards to do more to hold government Ministers and departments accountable.

Signed by more than 110 MPs, journalists and campaigners, the letter says the current approach to enforcing the Freedom of Information Act is “clearly not working”. It urges Mr Edwards (pictured) to defend the public’s right to know, including allocating more resources to investigate complaints about secrecy in Whitehall.

In response, Mr Edwards said he recognised “the concern around timely access to information” and insisted that addressing this was a “priority”.

Last year, a judge criticised the Cabinet Office for its “profound lack of transparency” after openDemocracy exposed the existence of an FOI ‘Clearing House’ in government, which was ‘blacklisting’ requests from journalists and others.

A Parliamentary inquiry into the Clearing House was launched in July 2021 and is still ongoing.

The open letter says: “The accountability that FOI provides is in real danger of disappearing, which poses a threat to the long-term national interest of this country. It is time for fresh thinking and bold action to deliver FOI transparency in the public interest.”

It urges the ICO to allocate more resources to investigating complaints about FOI. It also calls for clear protocols to be introduced to deal with authorities that have systemic patterns of poor transparency.

In his response to the letter, Mr Edwards added: “We acknowledge the concerns expressed in this letter. FOI plays an important part in civic engagement and holding public services to account, and we share the desire to see the law work effectively.

“The ICO’s role is to administer the law, and we always want to hear views that help us to understand where our role can be improved…

“We all benefit from a modern law, and I think there are suggestions in this letter that warrant further consideration. My office will be part of those discussions, though decisions about law reform are for Ministers and Parliament to make.”