Journalists account for just 10 percent of requests made to local authorities in England under the Freedom of Information Act, new research has shown.

It is difficult to judge how many requests under the UK FOIA come from journalists because there is no incentive for reporters to identify themselves when making requests, so this figure is probably a very rough estimate.

This figure, from a survey by the Constitution Unit at University College London (PDF), is a bit lower than earlier estimates of media use of FOIA. Earlier this year, the Scottish Executive estimated that 70 per cent of requests seen by its central FOI Unit in the first five months of 2005 came from the media (PDF).

Another survey, by computer firm APR Smartlogik, suggests that journalists made 19 per cent of requests in Central Government and 23 per cent of requests to local authorities in the first three months of this year (PDF).

In countries with more established FOI laws, journalists usually account for an even smaller percentage of requests. In 2002, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, found that less than five per cent of requests under the American federal Freedom of Information Act came from journalists. In Ireland, FOIA requests by journalists fell to seven percent in 2004 following the intorduction of per-request fees.

But these two countries’ FOIAs also cover requests about the requester, which in Britain would be considered “subject access requests” under the Data Protection Act, so it’s a case of apples and oranges.