New guidelines on the ‘FOI for environmental reporting’ – EIR

Cleland Thom provides another of his useful roundups on ‘right to know’ laws in the UK. This time it’s the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR), a set of regulations which work in a similar way to the Freedom of Information Act, but specifically cover information about the environment.

The regulations aren’t just useful if you’re reporting on the environment – transport, energy and other issues all touch on the areas the EIR covers.

Now the Information Commissioner has issued guidelines on the regulations (PDF) for the first time. Cleland’s rundown of the basics goes as follows:

  1. The ‘default position’ is that authorities must disclose information if journalists ask for it.
  2. The regulations make it hard for an authority refuse a information request.
  3. Public authorities can release business information they hold – without the business’ knowledge or consent.
  4. Authorities cannot ask why a journalist wants information, or be obstructive or secretive because they know what they might do with it.
  5. The information must be accurate and up to date.
  6. They must respond in 20 working days.
  7. The media does not have automatic right to reproduce information they’re given. Check copyright first.
  8. Journalists can make requests by phone. But it’s best to provide written confirmation  to ensure accuracy.
  9. Authorities cannot ‘neither confirm nor deny’ they have information, unless it’s to do with international relations, defence, national security or public safety
  10. Authorities can refuse a request if it is too general – but they should then ask for a more precise request.
  11. Authorities can refuse to hand over information when It involves personal data; is against the public interest; is unreasonable; release WILL (not might) have an adverse effect on the course of justice, or someone’s intellectual property rights; the information is incomplete, or not available at all.

To give Cleland Thom a deserved plug, he is a consultant and trainer in media law, and is good.

More guidelines on EIR in this article in Local Government Lawyer from September 2011.

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