Heather Brooke, author of Your Right to Know: A Citizen’s Guide to the Freedom of Information Act, writes in the Guardian about the phone-hacking controversy and the ‘collusion between the elites of the police, politicians and the press’.
Brooke identifies the root cause of the problem as the lack of publicly available information in the UK compared to other countries, despite the Freedom of Information Act. This leads to a ‘cartel of information’. She writes:
I was amazed, having been a reporter in the US, to discover that all the public records we used routinely to conduct basic verification and investigation were off limits in the UK. Records such as criminal convictions, arrest logs, full court documents and land ownership documents were either illegal or very difficult and expensive to obtain. Even the detailed financial accounts of public bodies were unavailable.
When I tried to investigate parliamentary expenses, all the records I’d normally access in the US were secret. A five-year legal battle to access official information was ultimately ineffective, as parliament tried to retrospectively change the law so the Freedom of Information Act didn’t apply. At that point, someone on the inside sold the full database to the Daily Telegraph.
Brooke argues that it is this culture of secrecy which has lead to murky and corrupt networks developing between parts of the press, certain politicians and sections of the police:
Journalism in Britain is a patronage system – just like politics. It is rare to get good, timely information through merit (eg by trawling through public records); instead it’s about knowing the right people, exchanging favours. In America reporters are not allowed to accept any hospitality. In Britain, taking people out to lunch is de rigueur. It’s where information is traded. But in this setting, information comes at a price.
This is why there is collusion between the elites of the police, politicians and the press. It is a cartel of information. The press only get information by playing the game. There is a reason none of the main political reporters investigated MPs’ expenses – because to do so would have meant falling out with those who control access to important civic information. The press – like the public – have little statutory right to information with no strings attached. Inside parliament the lobby system is an exercise in client journalism that serves primarily the interests of the powerful.
Visit the Guardian to read the article in full.
A Citizen’s Guide to the Freedom of Information Act
New edition of this popular guide. Shows how to get the information you want through using the new freedom of information act.
“Information is born free, but everywhere is in chains. Heather Brooke has written the Information Liberation Front guide to end the politicians’ enslavement of the facts which belong to the public. Bravo.” – Greg Palast, author The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
“Heather Brooke pulls no punches when it comes to exposing how the government, public institutions and private companies all keep the British public in the dark. Even better, she tells readers how they can successfully challenge the system using the latest public access laws.” – Michael Crick, BBC journalist