FOI paperwork

David Higgerson has also warned of "too many loopholes" in the act that allow public bodies to deny requests for information

Credit: by nerdcoregirl on Flickr. Some rights reserved
Charging journalists to submit Freedom of Information (FOI) requests would result in a reduction in the number submitted, with some newsrooms stopping requests entirely, MPs were warned today by David Higgerson, digital publishing director for Trinity Mirror Regionals.

When asked about the impact of a fee by MPs sitting on the justice commitee, which was scrutinising the 2000 Act as part of a review, Higgerson said that it would "would result in the reduced use of the Freedom of Information Act".

Asked to expand upon a blog post he wrote on "why we have a lot to fear from this review", Higgerson said his concerns were partly due to a "growing momentum" of discussions on the cost of FOI.

He spoke of a "danger if the cost argument could be used", a point also raised by a campaign to "save the Freedom of Information Act".

Higgerson said that one figure "floating around" as a possible cost to newsrooms is a £25 fee per request, explaining this would be likely to result in some newsrooms "stopping using FOI all together".

Doug Wills from the Evening Standard said such a move would reduce the number of requests submitted by the Standard.

Asked whether taxpayers should be footing the bill of requests made and "used for the commercial business of selling newspapers" with their "dramatic headlines", Wills said: "Many of the FOI questions are not dramatic headlines, instead they generate public debate."

The Freedom of Information Act - the full provisions of which came into force in 2005, enabling members of the public including journalists to request information from public bodies - has resulted in a "big sea change" in openness, former Guardian correspondent David Hencke told the committee.

Hencke, representing the National Union of Journalists, illustrated the change giving the example of "battles with number 10" when Tony Blair "did not want the list of gifts he received to be made public", whereas US president Bill Clinton "routinely published this list of gifts".

Since the introduction of the Act, lists of gifts and ministerial visits have been routinely made public in the UK.

Higgerson said the Act has seen public bodies become more accountable but other legislation has enabled some "to become more secretive".

There are "too many loopholes" allowing public bodies to withhold information from journalists and the public, he warned.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).