Request Initiative: The Future of Transparency

Duncan Campbell spoke at the Future of Transparency event at City University in London on 22 May to discuss "information law and the role of investigative journalism in today's world." 


"[Duncan], you have really inspired me. Working at Request Initiative I have to be focused on NGO campaigns most of the time, which are all very worthy. But last night you reminded me that the critically important, fundamental issues about finance and security must be prioritised. I hope to spend more of my life working on these matters in the future." -  Lucas Amin, Operations Director of Request Initiative and author of FOIA without the lawyer.


Event description:

Transparency is a precondition of democracy. But accountability in Britain is under threat. On May 22 Request Initiative and City University will ask why. Our speakers include Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, Duncan Campbell, investigative journalist and forensic expert, Robin Hopkins, a barrister from 11KBW, Helen Darbishire, director of Access Info Europe and Brendan Montague, co-founder and director of the Request Initiative. The talk will focus on information law and the role of investigative journalism in today's world.

The Ministry of Justice review of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) stated: "Freedom of Information has been a significant enhancement of our democracy and the Act is working well." But David Cameron claimed that FOIA "furs up" the arteries of government and many expect the government to propose a revision of the act's powers this year.

FOIA has provided a powerful tool for journalists and campaigners. Recent disclosures revealed that the MoD considers the war in Afghanistan as "unwinnable in military terms" and that Prince Charles was "secretly given a say over dozens of new laws" in the past decade. And we now know London council houses sold to tenants have fallen into the hands of "rich landlords."

Many fear that new modes of governance are undermining the openness installed by the FOIA. Influential organisations like the IMF and the G20 are immune from any transparency legislation. Privatisation is reducing accountability because FOIA does not extend to the private sector. Transparency is also diminishing in other areas of UK life. Newly approved secret courts mean a person may not have the right to attend their own trial. London's role in the offshore banking industry is under renewed scrutiny.

We will be asking our panel why accountability matters in public life and encouraging them to assess the UK's current commitments to transparency: are they sufficient? What are the social and economic impacts of withholding public information? Given that the right "to seek, receive and impart information" is a human right, should we consider subjecting private bodies to the same scrutiny as public ones? Our speakers will also consider the future of transparency. How will it work in the future? And how should it work? Are their risks in continuing on our path toward secrecy?

Information Commissioner: FoI exemption for private companies is “perverse”

City University MA student, Dan Douglas covered the event.

Click here to read the blog post



Watch videos of the event:

The Future of Transparency (1/5)



The Future of Transparency (2/5)


The Future of Transparency (3/5)


The Future of Transparency (4/5)


The Future of Transparency (5/5)



Jess Denham, Interactive Journalism MA student at City University London, created a Storify of the event. See the tweets below, and her website here