FOI nets journalist major award

Tenacious and intellegent use of the Freedom of Information Act helped the Sunday Herald’s Scottish political editor, Paul Hutcheon, win both the Journalist of the Year and Political Journalist of the Year at the 27th Scottish Press Awards.

The awards recognised Hutcheon’s lengthy investigation into MSPs taxi use that led to the resignation of David McLetchie in what became known as “Taxigate”.

Hutcheon’s hunch that the erstwhile Scottish Conservative leader was taking publicly funded taxis for personal and legal business prompted his freedom of information request for McLetchie’s travel expense claims.

The battle that ensued took the best part of a year, led to a landmark decision from the Information Commissioner, the downfall of McLetchie and the introduction of one of the most transparent political expense systems in the world.

Hutcheon broke every significant development in “Taxigate”, having pored through McLetchie’s voluminous expense forms to unearth the anomalies that triggered the Tory leader’s downfall. It took four months of work before the Sunday Herald could publish the first story and another four months of follow-up stories before McLetchie resigned.

The judges commented that Hutcheon had made brilliant use of the new freedom of information legislation and knew what questions to ask – and when to ask them….Read the full article in the Sunday Herald

The story relied predominantly on the ruling from the Scottish Information Commissioner that ordered disclosure of detailed taxi receipts. Hutcheon may have had to wait several months for this ruling, but in the UK, journalists are still waiting for the UK Commissioner to adjudicate on similarly important matters.

The knowledge and use of the FOIA is essential for all journalists intent on breaking agenda-setting stories. But in order for the law to be effective we need timely and significant rulings from the regulator.

2 Responses to “FOI nets journalist major award”

  1. Antoinette Carter says:

    But what about the cost to the tax payer? Paul Hutcheon has submitted nearly 500 requests to the Scottish Executive, which has cost infinitely more than McLetchie’s taxi bill. Isn’t there a double-standard operating here?

  2. heather says:

    My guess is that because of Paul’s requests, all MSPs will think twice about claiming expenses. So it’s not just one MSP but all that are affected and not just now, but for years in the future. The collective savings of a properly run system is enormous. FOI is one of the greatest spurs to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of public services while reducing the need for so many expensive and bureaucratic regulators.

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