Blair’s dealings with Murdoch 'to remain secret'

Downing Street has refused to release details under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of Tony Blair’s contacts with Rupert Murdoch, the media magnate.

Number 10 officials reportedly conceded that although there is a “public interest” in the Prime Minister’s dealings with the News Corporation chairman, “on balance”, they should remain secret.

A reader of The Independent newspaper, who requested details of “communications, correspondence and minutes” between the pair, was refused on the grounds it was more important for Mr Blair to continue to have “free and frank discussions” with people.

According to the newspaper, a Number 10 spokeswoman explained, “On balance, we consider that the public interest factors in favour if non-disclosure outweigh those in favour of disclosure of the information you have requested.”

The official added that the information requested would not be released because it is “important for the effective conduct of public affairs that the Prime Minister is able to undertake free and frank discussions with a range of stakeholders.”

Critics of Mr Blair have claimed that Mr Murdoch has been given too much say in a range of key policy issues including cross-media ownership and European affairs.

Mr Blair’s political opponents claim Mr Murdoch’s ownership of The Sun, Britain’s biggest newspaper, and The Times, the right of centre compact newspaper, has been used to repay the influence.

The reader who filed the FOI request has appealed against Number 10’s ruling, which under the Act, dictates Downing Street has 30 days during which it can review its decision.

Freelance journalists are reminded that if an appeal is denied, the agency must inform the requester of the right to judicial review.

In addition, a requester whose appeal has been denied also has the right to place in the agency file a “concise statement of disagreement with the information that was the subject of the request for amendment.”

Lord Falconer, the Constitutional Affairs Secretary, this week published the first review into the Freedom of Information Act, saying a “new chapter of openness” had shown the FoI was a “success” since it began in January 2005 – five years after the act was passed.

Writing one day before the news of the Blair/Murdoch ruling, Lord Falconer reflected, “a greater openness is now emerging that will be of long term benefit both to the citizen and to the government.”

“One year on, thousands of information requests have been answered, amounting to nearly 2,000 information releases each and every month from central government bodies alone.”

Lord Falconer’s comments come just one month after the Home Office, the Department of State which last year received the second highest number of FOI requests, confirmed that criminals were abusing the Act by requesting details of police informers and special investigative techniques.



 

25th May 2006

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