The Campaign for Freedom of Information (“CFOI”), one of the most important public interest campaigning bodies in Britain in recent decades, is in financial difficulties and needs help urgently.
CFOI was for many years a lone voice in calling for this country to adopt Freedom of Information laws like other countries have had for decades. It was the main instigator behind getting manifesto commitments from Labour and the Lib Dems before the 1997 election to bring in a bill. It then played a leading role in the passage of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as well as half a dozen other pieces of legislation designed to break down official secrecy. All the time the CFOI was battling civil service and ministers’ attempts to weaken the bill.
As a Board member of Article 19, which is so active in this field internationally, I know how important it is that the UK has the best possible Freedom of Information laws in order to set an example to Commonwealth and other countries where access to information is even more vital to the safeguarding of human rights and the underpinning of democracy.
The CFoI and its redoubtable director Maurice Frankel is owed an enormous debt by the public and by journalists to whom it has provided a vital research tool, the Freedom of Information request.
Without these requests, tens of thousands of revelations about official activities would not have been possible.
The campaign for disclosure of MP s expenses relied on a long campaign by Heather Brooke using FOI legislation and the appeal rights it brought. And here is a recent example, from two weeks ago, about Michael Gove lifting data about history teaching from a Premier Inn survey.
The greatest tribute to the work of the CFOI comes from none other than Tony Blair who admitted that being cornered into delivering that manifesto commitment was one of his greatest regrets.
With a small staff and a small budget, the CFOI continues to campaign on FOI issues and provides training to individuals and organisations.
In this Parliament, the Coalition Government was “encouraged” to deliver on its FOI pledges in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 by a CFOI campaign against potential back-tracking and evasion. Perhaps its most important work is its continuous task of resisting the relentless efforts of government to water down the FOI Act.
But the CFOI is now in severe financial difficulties which could threaten its continued existence. It is in urgent need of money to enable it to continue its work.
It may be unusual for the Associate Director of one hard-up campaign organisation (Hacked Off) to ask for financial support for another, but this really is a worthy cause.
Freedom of Information is a key tool of investigative and public interest journalism. Hacked Off is strong supporter of public interest journalism. We all need CFOI to carry on its work. Please think about helping and please pass this link on to others who might be able to help.
Evan Harris is the Associate Director of Hacked Off