Academics sceptical about the effectiveness of FOI laws

Will academics be able to use the new FOI laws to unearth important information that is being withheld from the public? According to Greg Philo, director of the Glasgow Media Group at Glasgow University, it is highly unlikely: "What we really need to know is not what decision was reached, as that is usually obvious, but who was paying for what and whose interests were being appeased, and this kind of information will never appear in the official records."

According to Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, Britain is the most secretive country in the world, alongside China and the former Soviet Union: "Anything that helps you to keep tabs on the state has to be a step in the right direction. But I don't think the act will mark a quantum leap in openness."

The Act is unlikely to enable Lang to get hold of the information he wants: "It might make the government more accountable," he said, "but in food policy, it's more often than not inside the large multinationals where the real evidence is to be found and the act has no powers over them. So the motives and reach of the big food companies are likely to remain secret."

Where's the beef? How much will academic researchers benefit from the new Freedom of Information Act? (The Guardian, 11 January 2005)