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The Commons and its tormentors

Martin Rosenbaum | 16:54 UK time, Thursday, 22 May 2008

The House of Commons is going to release the long-awaited information about selected MPs' expenses tomorrow, but, it seems, only to the journalists who initially requested it - so that it looks like the rest of us will have to wait a little longer until Sunday to read all about it.

Naturally if it happens this will deeply annoy the rest of the media - but of course as journalists (a profession which generally follows the principle that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds) we'd also complain furiously if it was us losing our scoop to all our rivals.

However, what's interesting to me is that, assuming the Commons authorities do let the journalists who have tormented them keep their scoop, it will be in line with an increasing tendency among public authorities - and one which I did not expect when FOI was being introduced.

Lord Falconer, the cabinet minister responsible for freedom of information when it came into force in 2005, proclaimed that government departments would publish interesting FOI releases simultaneously in disclosure logs on their websites: "If information can appropriately be released to one member of the public it is by definition suitable for releasing to all."

While some public authorities do abide by this, if a little haphazardly in some cases, it's clear (as I've noted before) that many have lost whatever initial enthusiasm they had for posting FOI releases on web disclosure logs. The Cabinet Office, for example, has hardly posted anything since the middle of 2006. And this is all in line with the recent findings of research for the Information Commissioner that most public authorities appear to be reducing the proactive disclosure of information which is not forced on them.

My view is simple: it is clearly in the public interest that I should be given access to everyone else's scoops, but no one else should get access to mine.

UPDATE: It now seems that the Commons authorities may have changed their mind and the material will be made widely available. For reasons outlined above, I believe this decision is entirely in the public interest.


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