The Fog of War (on Drugs)

A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Nottinghamshire police by a local newspaper resulted in the press headline

Police winning war on production of cannabis in county

The request was apparently for “the number of cannabis farms discovered” in the county, and the number of arrests in relation to production of the drug. Over a five year period the data showed that both were down, by 19% and 25% respectively. The paper reported that

Police say the figures prove a crackdown on cannabis production is having an impact

Do the figures prove that? I don’t think so. In fact, I think you could just as reasonably extrapolate that, for instance, police are actually “losing the war on drugs” and have chosen to expend fewer resources in discovering the farms, or, that producers have got a lot better at hiding them. The figures don’t “prove” these assertions either, but each seems to me to be as valid a conclusion as the one reported.

I read the article in light of an exchange on twitter about whether public authorities, when responding to FOI requests, were entitled to include a statement to be used in the event that the requester wished to publish an article.

Provided that the response to the FOI request itself is compliant with legal requirements I see no problem with this approach, which is really only an extension of the practice of providing explanatory comment to FOI disclosures.

What I would be critical of, though, is an unquestioning approach by journalists to such accompanying statements.

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Filed under Freedom of Information, journalism

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