The value of FoI

The Private Eye Paul Foot Award for campaigning journalism was this week shared between The Guardian’s investigative team of David Leigh and Rob Evans, and Deborah Wain of the Doncaster Free Press.

Wain discovered corruption among the leaders of Doncaster Education City. The £100m project to revolutionise teenagers’ education in the town had fallen into chaos without local people or councillors knowing.

Leigh and Evans won for their three-year investigation into British arms firm BAE Systems, during which they revealed that the company paid £1m to Saudi Prince Bandar to preserve a lucrative arms deal.

Like many awards entrants, Wain often used the Freedom of Information Act in her 18-month investigation. She revealed that Dr George Holmes, DEC’s chief executive and now vice-chancellor at Bolton University, had been given a 50 per cent pay increase and that the scheme paid out £1m in consultancy fees.

She said: “I would like to emphasise how crucial the FoI Act has been in uncovering details of spending. My best stories were founded on FoI requests, so attempts to restrict its use should be strongly resisted by all journalists.”

Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, said: “The judges had a very difficult choice. So we took a leaf out of the Prime Minister’s book and decided not to make it. There are therefore two winners: one international juggernaut of a story brilliantly uncovered by a top national team and the other a first-class domestic story doggedly revealed by a lone reporter on a local paper.”

Paul Foot Award winner emphasises value of FoI (Press Gazette, 19 October 2007)