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Media representatives call for Freedom of Information fees to be dropped

Journalists speaking before the Finance Committee today also said the whole administrative system needs reform.

Leinster House
Leinster House
Image: Gareth Chaney/Photocall Ireland

REPRESENTATIVES OF THE media today appealed to the government to commit to a real review of the Freedom of Information legislation.

The main focus for representatives appearing before the Finance Committee today was the the €15 charge for requests which they all said should be dropped.

Emma O’Kelly, RTÉ’s Education Correspondent said that even a small fee “goes against the spirit of the legislation which should be for openness and transparency”.

Seamus Dooley of the National Union of Journalists told the committee that the idea of a registered user fee would be considered by the NUJ whereby journalists would pay a set annual fee instead of individual payments for each request.

Dooley went on to say that there was not one body he could think of that should not be covered by the law. “That doesn’t mean you can’t have protection,” he said. “There will be circumstances where exclusion is appropriate but that should not be the norm.”

Richard Boyd Barrett said he was “worried that the issue of commercial sensitivity is being used as a catch all phrase for stopping people getting information that is very much in the public interest”, particularly when it comes to bodies like NAMA.

Journalist Ken Foxe said that reporters tend to “tailor requests” so that they are sending them to bodies they know will cooperate and that they will get valuable information from.

RTÉ journalist Colm O Mongain told the committee that the same request could be sent to two different bodies and a reporter could get back documents with two completely different approaches.

“It could be that one department takes a more stringent approach due to the volume or the ethos in that department,” he said.

On the issue of payment for request, the committee chair Ciaran Lynch questioned whether there was a justification for a fee based on the fact that the media are working on a business model and profiting from the information.

The committee will now discuss the findings of today’s meetings and make recommendations on whether the legislation should be ammended.

Read: Information Commissioner welcomes Freedom of Information reform>

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