The Freedom of Information Act is arguably the UK journalist’s biggest asset when it comes to public sector investigation.
As a student, I was often told I should make full use of it whenever I could. To my shame, I rarely did, other than to find out the costs of the University of Lincoln’s Vice-Chancellor’s transport costs. It wasn’t a scoop.
But here’s a brilliant site that not only holds your hand while you make requests, but also shows you the requests of others too. In other words, an absolute goldmine.
Personally, some of the more interesting requests — and answers — came from the BBC and its viewers. A selection:
Response: Please note that your request is outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”) but we are happy to provide you with some information on this occasion. The reason that BBC News did not cover the conference is that we weren’t told about it by the party; as you may be aware, the BNP don’t usually tell journalists when or where it will be held. Indeed, on the BNP website the only mention of the annual conference is a report afterwards. The BBC has of course covered the BNP in other circumstances this year.
Response: The BBC has a zero tolerance policy towards illegal drugs and no income from the TV Licence fee
is spent on their purchase.
Request: “The BBC recently gave a gift of shopping vouchers to members of staff at World Service News and
Current Affairs. Did all WSNCA staff receive the same gift? How much were they given and how much did
this cost the BBC?”
Response: As part of the BBC-wide ‘Celebrating Success’ scheme, all 290 staff in World Service News & Current
Affairs were awarded £100 in shopping vouchers in July of this year as a reward for outstanding
achievement. This included winning eight prestigious Sony Radio Awards and increasing audience figures by
2 million listeners. The achievement was exceptional as the BBC World Service had previously only won
one gold Sony Award in its 75 year history.
The vouchers were funded from the department’s own budget and all staff received the same amount. The
total cost of the reward was £29,000.
I used the site to ask for information that I’ve been curious about for a while too:
Dear Sir or Madam,
I would like to request details of the precise number of refunds
claimed in full by BBC viewers following a) the departure of John
Sergeant and b) The ‘void’ semi-final vote.
What do you think?