With less than 48 hours to go before the British Freedom of Information Act comes in to force, the constitutional affairs secretary, Lord Falconer, has announced that any information released under the Act will be simultaniously published on the web, the Guardian reports.
This is an interesting development, and clearly an attempt to de-value the act for journalists by denying them exclusives generated under the FOIA. It also allows the government to take credit for openess even though some hard-working campaigner or journalist actually forced the release of previously-secret information.
Falconer’s logic, outlined in a Guardian op-ed is that the FOIA’s intent is to create open government, not generate stories for investigative journalists. Some observers, like Spyblog, have unfortunatly bought this spin at face value.
The Guardian’s leader today says it better:
This is rubbish, as Lord Falconer must know perfectly well. The courts have long recognised that most media companies are commercial organisations as well as providers of news. The law acknowledges the value in intellectual property as well as in the exclusive revelation of information. Ferreting information out of Whitehall will often be time-consuming and expensive. Editors will be reluctant to assign reporters to long and labour-intensive investigations if the fruits of their inquiries will be released to every other journalist before they even have a chance to publish it themselves. …
Update: At the Guardian’s Onlineblog, Bobbie Johnson has another take: the pyjamahadeen will be the chief benefitiaries of the simultanious disclosure policy. In other words, some investigative reporter does all the legwork and some blogger takes the credit while chiding the mainstream media for failing to do its job properly.