The impotence of FOI

Tony Blair has been criticised by MPs for refusing to co-operate with their parliamentary inquiry into the ineffectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act.

In his autobiography, Blair described the legislation (which he introduced) as "antithetical to sensible government" and admitted that he was "not at all sure that the act has really achieved its goal of greater transparency".

A prime example of the ineffectiveness of Freedom of Information law in the UK and its inability to establish anything like a transparent and accountable society was the Information Commissioner's decision not to act in the News of the World phone hacking scandal. The Commissioner showed a complete lack of integrity when he refused to investigate the matter fully - even when he had the opportunity (and the evidence) to reveal the true extent of the News of the World's corrupt journalistic practices.

Alexander Owens, who was a senior investigating officer at the Information Commissioner's Office, uncovered what he referred to as a "Pandora's box" of information at the house of private investigator Steve Whittamore. It included 17500 entries in notebooks with requests for information from journalists.

Owens claimed that despite the discovery of this paper trail, he was told by his line manager at the ICO that he was not to make any approach to any reporters or the press.
Owens said that the former deputy head of the ICO had told him that Murdoch's media empire was "too big" to pursue.

The failure of the Commissioner's Office to properly investigate the evidence and the lack of any official criticism about the News of the World's practices from the PCC, the police and a number of MPs helped keep the truth behind the story out of the news for years.

But the truth emerged. Eventually. Despite the best efforts of the Information Commissioner's Office to hide the truth by concealing the evidence. So much for freedom of information.

See: MPs criticise Tony Blair for failing to co-operate with inquiry (The Guardian, 26 July 2012)