FoI Investigation to Explore Relationship Between Media and Public Agencies

Complaints that the media abuses Freedom of Information legislation to find stories are to be investigated by the commissioner responsible for overseeing the operation of the legislation in Scotland.

Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner, is to host a round-table discussion later this year, with a select group of journalists, professionals working with FoI and public bodies, in response to claims from public agencies that FoI requests from the media are often unclear and amount to no more than 'fishing expeditions', in the vague hope of finding a story.

The discussion follows the latest annual report from Dunion, which found that the media was responsible for only 11 per cent of appeals to his office, following a request that has been turned down twice.

Dunion suggests that one possible reason is that the media 'has moved on' since the time of the original FoI request and does not have time to pursue an appeal. In his annual report, he comments: “While some authorities report that a high proportion of requests are made by the media, only a small number of these go on to become FOI appeals to me. The reasons for this are not clear. It could be that journalists commonly receive the information they are looking for at the first point of asking, or it may be that the time-pressured environment in which journalists work means that they are less likely to appeal when an information request is refused or delayed, or even ignored.”

That said, the media has a slightly better chance of success than most at the appeals stage, with the 2010-11 figures showing that 74 per cent of appeals from the media are successful, as against 61 per cent of all appeals.

It's not known what portion of FoI requests come specifically from the media. 

Last year, the commissioner took a pilot ‘FoI Road Show’ to Inverness which involved local media. Also last year, the commissioner’s office also held a briefing session for journalists working at Scotsman Publications.

The annual report also shows that commissioner received 1733 enquiries during 2010, with the media accounting for eight per cent.

The commissioner’s media team says it is also encouraging members of the press to contact them – on 01334 464610 or – for advice and guidance if they are unsure about the best way to proceed with a request.