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MFRR calls for an investigation into the targeting of journalists by the UK Government

As part of the MFRR, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom calls for an urgent, robust and transparent investigation into the potentially unlawful manipulation of Freedom of Information requests by the UK Government, through the secretive ‘Clearing House’ unit

On 23 November 2020, openDemocracy released a report regarding a UK government unit called the ‘Clearing House’, based out of the Cabinet Office. According to the report,  Freedom of Information (FOI) requests sent to Whitehall departments that are deemed sensitive, or too expensive to answer are forwarded to the unit for further vetting. As noted in the report, Act of Darkness authored by Lucas Amin, ‘the FOI act does not stipulate the need for a Clearing House and the unit has no public policy mandate.’

This centralisation of the responsibility to respond to FOI requests gives ample cover for political decisions to inform the government’s response. Something that goes against the spirit, and likely also the letter, of the 2000 Freedom of Information act.

Journalists from openDemocracy, The Guardian, The Times, the BBC, and many more, as well as researchers from Privacy International and Big Brother Watch have been included on lists compiled by the Clearing House.

It is vital that an independent and robust investigation is carried out to ensure that all FOI requests are treated equally and without political interference or the appearance thereof.

Nik Williams