Thursday, June 22, 2006

Media update - FOI in the news

Your weekly update of stories illustrating how people are using the Freedom of Information Act: a really good mix of stories about this week - ranging from historical uses of the Act - The CND story reported in the Telegraph, issues effecting the devolution process in Scotland and Northern Ireland, how public money is being spent on agency staff by councils and how a Scientology group used the FOIA to find out about shock therapies used in the NHS. All these stories do generally illustrate some of the benefits FOIA is offering which often get lost in the "refusal" stories...of which we do have a high level case relating to how the Treasury has been ordered to release (by the ICO) documents relating to Pension forecasts in 1997.

BBC open secrets blog
-Exposed: Tony thanks Sweden for Sven
-How journalism works

BBC News - Stormont transcripts not available
"The "virtual assembly" currently sitting at Stormont is not subject to Freedom of Information legislation. This emerged after members of the Preparation for Government Committee decided to ask the assembly's Hansard clerks to provide an accurate transcript of their proceedings."

Daily Telegraph - Met blamed 'fine weather' for 1983 CND rally blunder
"A Home Office file from 1983 released yesterday under the Freedom of Information Act shows how Special Branch seriously underestimated support for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, despite Margaret Thatcher's insistence that a close watch be kept on its activities......The declassified document, dealing with preparations for the huge CND march and rally in central London that year, offers a snapshot of the preoccupations of the security state at the height of the Cold War. They included an interest in the songs preferred by peace campaigners, the number of "coloured" people taking part in protests, and guidance on how to identify an anarchist."

Daily Telegraph -
"The Treasury has been told to reveal details of the forecasts behind Gordon Brown's 1997 tax raid on pensions and how the Government expected the move to affect retirement funds. The move comes after a request under the Freedom of Information Act for details of the decision to withdraw the payment of tax credits on UK dividends, which the Treasury had previously refused to release.

(Also read the decision notice issued by the ICO related to the above Treasury story)

- Secret report on tax powers ordered by top civil servant
"SCOTLAND'S most senior civil servant ordered a confidential report into the provision of more tax powers for the Scottish Parliament, it emerged yesterday. John Elvidge, the Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Executive, commissioned the report into everything from the fiscal powers of the parliament to independence. It has been circulated to ministers and senior civil servants in a confidential briefing paper but has not been made public, despite a formal request being made under the Freedom of Information Act."

The Herald - PFI hospital at centre of closure row exceeds A&E capacity
"A Scottish hospital built using private finance five years ago has exceeded its capacity by more than 20%. The accident and emergency department at Wishaw General in Lanarkshire was designed to treat 50,000 casualties a year, according to details released yesterday following a Freedom of Information Act request."

The - UK Government Rules that Police Used Misleading Speed Camera Stats
"Police in Greater Manchester, UK were judged to have used misleading statistics and false advertising in a ruling issued today by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), an independent agency that enforces UK laws against false advertising. The speed camera operators in February began mailing a pamphlet entitled the "Book of Tricks" to recipients of £60 (US $110) photo tickets.....Following the successful ruling, the Hampshire resident said this was just the beginning. "I am continuing the campaign against dubious propaganda by requesting all advertising material under the freedom of information act. All requests will land on police desks today."

Prospect magazine - Mandarin intellectuals
"These are not only questions of political theory; answering them also requires an understanding of how disclosures will be received in the public sphere and what effects they will have on perceptions. You can't work out the public interest in disclosure without considering these factors too. So again, we find that civil servants are considering deep issues concerning the power of the modern state, but also combining that analysis with harder-edged practical concerns—the archetype of the engaged intellectual."

Regional news

Sandhurst news and mail - Fury as council spends £3 million on agency staff
"Bracknell Forest Borough Council was named as one of the biggest spenders on agency staff in the South East after splashing out more than £3 million during the last financial year. The figures came to light after a Freedom of Information Act request by the GMB Union, which has criticised the amount of money spent on non-permanent staff."

Leicester Mercury - electric shock therapy used thousands of times
"Thousands of electric shock treatments have been given to patients over the past five years. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show the controversial treatment has been given 4,790 times by Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust since 2001."

This is Bradford
- Schools act to cut incidents of racism
"Figures obtained by the Telegraph & Argus under the Freedom of Information Act reveal there have been 298 racist incidents in Bradford schools since September and another 405 racist incidents in the previous academic year."

Liverpool Daily Post - Jailed men fight to clear names
"A GROUP of former shipyard workers who were jailed more than 20 years ago after mounting a picket line during an industrial dispute have called on the Prime Minister to help clear their names. The 37 men spent up to a month in jail in 1984 after being arrested at the Cammell Laird yard on Merseyside during a dispute over jobs....Backed by their union, the GMB, the men have applied to government departments under the Freedom of Information Act to try to establish if there was any political interference in their arrest."

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