28Gate: The Guardian was for FOI before it was against it

Not a peep on The Guardian about 28Gate. How is it possible, a clear-cut human-rights-cum-FOI case involving a lone pensioner and a big bullying Corporation, the Little Guy against the Establishment, Six Lawyers against Man-and-wife…and still, only silence from the esteemend beacon of progressive albeit evidently at least a tad hypocritical thought?

Nevermind. We can warm up your hearts by reading…The Guardian. Step forward Polly Toynbee (whom I shared guesthood with a few years ago at a lunch offered by the outgoing Italian Ambassador in London). It was 13 Apr 2007, and Ms Toynbee posted this comment to her own piece “Our press, the worst in the west, demoralises us all“: (my emphasis)

on Freedom of Information: there should have been a privacy law to go with it. As it is, the press often uses it as a lazy way to fish out bits of information by firing off a hundred questions, mostly on relatively frivolous stuff. It’s not exactly fearless investigation. Meanwhile, they rarely bother with what is really difficult – penetrating the opaque world of business. Imagine if business had to be as transparent, if shareholders had the same FOI rights to ask anything. That really would shake things up. Why so many petty questions about government costs, and never a word about the ‘executive’ culture of business travel charged up to our pensions?

Way to go Polly. Imagine if the BBC had to be as transparent, if licence fee payers had the same FOI rights to ask anything. That really would shake things up.

In fact, things are being shaken up by FOI at the BBC as we speak

Fast forward last May and FOI campaigner and journalist” Heather Brooke: (my emphasis throughout)

the FOI Act doesn’t work in a timely way…The reason people have to make FOI requests is because the data isn’t there…The culture is that the people in power know best for everyone else. FOI levels the playing field…We need legislation – it is the only way to get the right to know taken seriously by government and public service, with sanctions if it’s not obeyed….the public need to know about the lobbying that went on behind the scenes. FOI gives the people who control the information the power to decide whether they’re going to release it or not. Outside people need to be able to get into the heart of power.

Heather is spot-on. It all applies perfectly to the BBC. And there is more by her:

where you have an exemption, it quickly becomes abused. National security is the ultimate exemption, and sins and incompetencies can be hidden. The reason there is a lot of distrust about the motivation of politicians to want this safe space comes from the Iraq war minutes [the cabinet meeting where the legal status of the war was discussed].That was onGe of the first FOI requests I made, and a lot of journalists made it, and we didn’t get it. Eventually the commissioner ruled it had to be released, but it was a ministerial veto that overturned it.

…By making it clear the public can’t find out how a decision is made, you risk a politician making a poor decision….

Yes Heather! By making it clear the public can’t find how a decision is made, you risk the BBC making a poor decision. Plus you know what? The revolution is being digitised! (my emphasis again)

Book Description “The Revolution will be Digitised: Dispatches from the Information War”
Publication Date: 18 Aug 2011
There is more information in the world than ever before – but who is in control?

At the centre is the Establishment: governments, corporations andpowerful individuals who have more knowledge about us, and more power, than at any other time in history. Circling them is a new generation of hackers, pro-democracy campaigners and internet activists who no longer accept that the Establishment should run the show.

In her gripping, revelatory new book, award-winning journalist and campaigner Heather Brooke takes us inside the Information War, from the hackerspaces of Boston and Berlin to the UK’s journalism hub and Iceland’s free speech revolution; from the headquarters of Google and Facebook to Collateral Murder, Cablegate and the murky world of Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

Along the way Brooke explores the most urgent questions of the digital age: where is the balance between freedom and security? In an online world, does privacy still exist? And will the internet empower individuals, or usher in a new age of censorship, surveillance and oppression?

For one day last week, I have been the pro-democracy campaigner and internet activist (a hacker, not really).

I, the revolutionary! Thank you Heather, thank you Polly, thank you Guardian!

(Shame on you, Guardian!)