Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from the Herald & Times Group

The Herald & Times Group is one of Scotland’s leading media companies and publishes The Herald in Glasgow, the Sunday Herald and the Evening Times. The company also owns the s1 internet advertising company, magazines and a print plant.

It is part of Newsquest Media Group which is a subsidiary of Gannett Inc. of the US.

Titles in the Herald & Times Group make Freedom of Information requests regularly though usually under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 relating to matters devolved to Scotland.

Examples of stories with major repercussions unearthed using FoI by the Sunday Herald are an illegal donation made to Scottish politician Wendy Alexander’s campaign to become Scottish Labour Party leader which led to her resignation, and questions over Labour MP Jim Devine’s expenses. He was later jailed.

We regard FoI as an extremely important piece of legislation which we use selectively to research matters which we feel are in the public interest.

We believe it could be improved by extending it to cover arms-length organisations and other publicly-funded bodies which at present do not come under the terms of the act. Basically, any freedom of information legislation should apply to organisations which rely on public funds, in the interests of transparency.

We have reservations about the clause of commercial confidentiality which can mask important spending decisions which should be exposed to public scrutiny.

We suggest the onus should be on public bodies to prove that commercial confidentiality is a real issue.

A frequent complaint public bodies put up about the FoI legislation is its cost and the fact that media organisations can use it as a fishing expedition.

We make FoI requests on a highly-targeted basis where we believe matters of genuine public interest are at stake. We believe that the benefits to public accountability and transparency outweigh any burden that public bodies may feel in meeting requests, many of which come from non-media members of the public.

February 2012

Prepared 25th July 2012