Campaigner fears government review could “nobble” Freedom of Information


By Carolyn Eden

“People in power do not like FOIA because those of us who like to hold people to account find it useful.”

That’s the view of investigative journalist Mark Watts, editor of online publication Exaro, who told students that Tony Blair has said that his one great regret from his time as Prime Minister was introducing the Freedom of Information Act.

He said: “The government is conducting a review of how FOIA is working, which is essentially an exercise in working out how to nobble it.”

Mark told the audience there has been a resurgence in investigative journalism following high profile stories such as the parliamentary expenses scandal.

Mark Watts talks about his career and how developments in technology have changed investigative journalism.

He said: “Journalism is about finding out what’s going on – invariably finding out something that someone in a position of power doesn’t want anyone else to know – and telling the world about it.

That is what journalism is and we could do with a bit more if it.”

Exaro worked with Newsnight to break a story on institutionalised tax avoidance, which resulted in an emergency debate the following day in the House of Commons.

Mark said: “It’s always good to see your story have an immediate impact.”

Often stories come from meeting confidential contacts in pubs, but experts need to be found to help make sense of the information uncovered.

He said: “You’ve got to distil this material – that is probably quite complicated in some senses – you’ve got to make it make sense to your audience.

“So first of all you’ve got to understand it yourself – really got to understand it – and you’ve got to be able to tell the story in a way that will make sense. You’ve really got to crystalise it.”

Mark said investigative journalism is expensive, particularly in terms of time required to properly research a story. “Researching a story takes months – it’s like wine – it has to mature.”


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