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    A protester carrying a puppet depicting Chris Grayling in central London, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

    UK Accused of Undermining Freedom of Information, Wanting Less Open Gov't

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    UK government official Chris Grayling has been accused of trying to undermine the media's access to secret government documents, after signalling that the Conservatives could crack down on what he believed was the "misuse" of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests.

    Grayling, the leader of the House of Commons, criticized the use of the FoI Act by some parts of the media, insisting that it shouldn't be used as a "research tool" in order to "generate stories."

    With ministers this year announcing that they'll take part in a cross-party review into the Act, Grayling told the Commons that FoI should be used for "those who want to understand why and how government is taking decisions."

    "The irony is that the person who said that he regretted the Freedom of Information Act 2000 most was the former MP Jack Straw, who introduced it.

    "He said that he looked back on it as one of the things that he had got wrong. This government [is] committed to the act, but we want to ensure that it works well and fairly, and cannot be abused or misused.

    "It is, on occasion, misused by those who use it as, effectively, a research tool to generate stories for the media, and that is not acceptable. It is a legitimate and important tool for those who want to understand why and how governments make decisions, and this government does not intend to change that."

    Government Stance on FoI 'Worrying'

    Political opponents and transparency campaigners quickly seized upon Grayling's comments, with deputy Labour leader Tom Watson saying the FoI Act should be strengthened, rather than weakened.

    "Chris Grayling's assertion that the Freedom of Information Act is 'misused' to generate stories for the media betrays a greater truth about this government's thinking," he said.

    "What they'd really like to see is less open government. It is the job of journalists to hold the government to account on behalf of the public. The Freedom of Information Act is a vital tool in their armory, which should not and must not be removed or weakened."

    Donald Campbell from human rights organization Reprieve was equally critical, saying Mr Grayling's comments were "worrying".

    "It is worrying that Mr Grayling seems to be criticizing the media for doing a crucial job: keeping the public informed about the activities of Government. This is especially important when it concerns an issue that ministers would rather keep secret.

    "Freedom of information is a crucial tool for keeping our political system honest. For example, FOI requests forced the UK Government to admit that it had sought to keep parts of the US Senate torture report secret.

    "The Government must think again about its plans to weaken the Freedom of Information Act, and recognize its importance in exposing waste and wrongdoing."

    There are fears that ministers may push for changes to be made to the FoI Act, which would make it harder for media organizations to force the government to release certain types of documents and information.

    The release of certain documents have caused the government some inconvenience this year, when an FoI request from Reprieve in July revealed that UK pilots had in fact carried out airstrikes in Syria while embedded with US and Canadian forces, which marked a significant step up in Britain's fight against the ISIL.

    Related:

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    UK Gov't to Review Freedom of Information Act After Sensitive Disclosures
    Tags:
    Freedom of Information Act, information, journalist crackdown, freedom of speech, journalism, research, government, media, crackdown, Reprieve, House of Commons, Chris Grayling, United Kingdom
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