Monday, March 26, 2007

Media update

Weekly FoI round-up...

BBC pays £200,000 to 'cover up report on anti-Israel bias' - Daily Mail
"The BBC has been accused of "shameful hypocrisy" over its decision to spend £200,000 blocking a freedom of information request about its reporting in the Middle East...The BBC's decision to carry on pursuing the case, despite the fact than the Information Tribunal said it should make the report public, has sparked fury as it flies in the face of claims by BBC chiefs that it is trying to make the corporation more open and transparent."

M1 'could be dangerous in rain' - BBC"The M1 between Leeds and Wetherby fails to meet modern construction standards and could be unsafe in heavy rain, a BBC investigation has revealed. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the BBC obtained a report commissioned by West Yorkshire Police after a fatal accident on the motorway in 2004. It shows that the M1-A1 link road was built with an outdated drainage system. The Highways Agency said improvements have been made but that drains still do not meet the latest requirements."

The Leopards of London - the dangerous pets in our capital - Daily Mail
"Official figures show that individual Londoners own about 100 wild animals, although experts say this is probably a serious underestimate. The data - released to our sister paper the Evening Standard under the Freedom of Information Act - show that four leopards, 45 poisonous snakes, four ostriches, five monkeys, two wolves and a crocodile are being kept as pets in the capital. Their owners have been granted licences under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act."

Hospital parking 'a stealth tax on illness' - Guardian
"The NHS may be free at the point of delivery, but patients and their families paid hospital parking charges in England totalling £95m in 2005/06. The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that 12 hospital trusts each raised more than £1m in charges."

Warning: zoo animals could escape into park - Independent
"An unpublished inspection of London Zoo has warned that dangerous animals could quickly emerge into the outside world, after leaping an inadequate perimeter fence...The warning came in an official inspection report by vets obtained by The Independent under Freedom of Information legislation...Although the zoo's tigers and lions are held in high security compounds, the Government-approved vets feared that if they did escape a 6ft perimeter fence would not hold them back for long."

Climate change envoy's carbon footprint is 30 times British average - Daily Mail
"The diplomat charged by the Government with lecturing the world on global warming has been revealed as one of the biggest contributors to it. John Ashton, whose role is to persuade other countries to reduce CO2 emissions, has made so many foreign trips by air in his job that his carbon footprint is already 30 times bigger than the UK average. Figures obtained under Freedom of Information legislation show he has flown more than 80,000 miles since his appointment last June."

Stop treating us like children, Lord Falconer - Observer
"Few members of the government manage to finesse with quite the charm and affability of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer. He lectures us on Magna Carta and boasts about government openness without the slightest sign of personal unease or, for that matter, criticism. But with the announcement on the new rules concerning the Freedom of Information Act, the game is surely up."


Council ignored TIC advice then closed it - Melton Today
"An E-MAIL made public this week reveals Melton Council ignored the advice of experts in deciding to close the town's Tourist Information Centre. The message, sent to the council in January, shows Leicester Shire Promotions had 'severe reservations' about the idea...The e-mail came to light following a Freedom of Information Act request by Dr Matthew O'Callaghan, the Chairman of the Melton Food and Drink Partnership."

Council keeps £850,000 bus statistics secret - Press Gazette
"Norfolk County Council have refused a request from the Eastern Daily Press to hand over a league table of the best and worst performing bus routes in Norfolk compiled by a state-of-the-art tracking system. The council has spent £850,000 on Busnet – which tracks the performance of 330 Norfolk bus routes – but rejected a request made under the Freedom of Information Act to hand over the data because to do so could "prejudice the commercial interests" of the council and the bus company. The council also argued that by sharing its results it could encourage people to use cars by putting them off using poorly performing services."

Prescriptions are headache - Cambridge Evening News
"Health chiefs have overspent prescription budgets by £6 million in the last three years. A Freedom of Information request by the News has revealed Cambridgeshire Primary Care Trust (PCT), which is £52 million in debt, is failing to keep within prescription spending limits. In 2003/04 it was £2.6 million over budget, £2 million over the following year and £1.3 million above target for the financial year 2005/06...In 2005/06 the PCT was 20 per cent below targets for the number of generic drugs doctors were being asked to prescribe."

Inmates in Yorkshire jails have their own cell keys - Yorkshire Post
"More than 60 per cent of criminals locked up in Yorkshire's prisons have the keys to their own cells, the Yorkshire Post can reveal. Nine prisons across the region give offenders the means to lock their own "rooms". Inquiries by [Shipley Conservative MP] Mr Davies showed that of Yorkshire's 15 prisons, six give keys to all of their inmates, three give them depending on offence category and personal circumstances, and only six deny them to all their offenders."

£7,400 - that's how much it cost to move ONE of 56 newts - Crewe Chronicle
"Moving just 56 newts cost the taxpayer £414,000 during the building of the Shavington Bypass, it has been revealed. The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that 56 great crested newts which lived on land affected by the building of the £28m A500 bypass needed special fencing erected to keep them enclosed while work to install a sliding bridge across the West Coast mainline was under taken."

Massive costs at mothballed visitor attraction - Doncaster Free Press
"Taxpayers have stumped up more than £325,000 in maintainance costs for the ill-fated Earth Centre in the two-and-a-half years since the site was mothballed, it has emerged. Last month it was revealed that Doncaster Council was poised to sell off the remaining 200 acres of the green visitor attraction, which swallowed up some £38 million of lottery cash before it was wound up in 2004 and mothballed with 24-hour security patrols. And new figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the cost to the council tax payer of keeping the site ticking over was £189,639.22 for the 2005-06 financial year, and £137,961.37 for the current financial year up to March 7."

Fugitive prisoners storm grows - Belfast Telegraph
"The PSNI was under pressure to clamp down on Ulster's fugitive prisoners after it emerged that just two of 73 inmates to abscond from jail in two years faced police charges. According to the information obtained by this paper from the PSNI, throughout 2005 and 2006 - when a total of 73 prison inmates absconded - one inmate was charged by police for "escaping from prison or lock-up where lawfully confined" and one prisoner was charged with "escaping from lawful custody after conviction." In contrast 46 people were charged with escaping from police custody, meaning they fled from a police station or from an arresting officer."


Housing groups may have to open books - The Herald
"Housing associations could be forced to open their records to the public under plans being considered by Scottish ministers to make them subject to Freedom of Information legislation...That would mean tens of thousands of housing association tenants would have a statutory right to access information regarding their homes and their landlords. In particular, it would mean tenants could demand information relating to the housing stock transfers that have taken place in Glasgow, the Borders, the Western Isles, Argyll and Bute, Dumfries and Galloway and Inverclyde over the past five years."

Freedom of information queries hit by delays - Evening News
"Nearly one fifth of freedom of information requests made to the [Edinburgh] city council are not responded to on time. New figures show the council handled 1478 queries last year, but only 1200 were replied to within the required 20 working days."

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