What’s so foolish about FOI?

The television presenter Phillip Schofield took to Twitter recently to draw attention to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Avon and Somerset Police. He did so because the request had asked about the cost to the force of Mr Schofield’s attendance at an open day.

Message to Tom Hodder .. No Fee!! My bro works for the police, it was a family day out!

I’ve no problem with his drawing attention to it, nor with his naming the person, but I thought it was rather unpleasant that he chose to use the hashtags #WastingPoliceTime #Fool. As Mr Schofield, and the response on WhatDoTheyKnow.com, say, the cost was nil, but I don’t suppose Mr Hodder was to know that: Mr Schofield was described on his own employer’s site as having been invited to attend, and he promotes himself as someone for hire for “personal appearances”. I didn’t know Mr Schofield’s brother works for the police, and I suspect Mr Hodder didn’t either.

Wasting Police Time is a term used to describe a criminal offence. What Mr Hodder was doing was exercising his statutory right to ask a public authority for information (in this instance about the expenditure of public funds), and I see nothing wrong in what he asked (nor, indeed, in the response by the police. I am sure Mr Schofield wasn’t seriously suggesting the commission of a criminal offence, but his use of the term, and the epithet “fool” seem mean-spirited. And, of course, as he might have expected, many of his fans jumped to his defence and to verbally attack Mr Hodder.

All this seems rather ironic when one considers Mr Schofield’s involvement in 2012 in another “transparency” story. This was when he confronted the prime minister with a list of alleged child sex abusers which he had found online, but which he failed to shield from the studio cameras – a stunt which Jonathan Dimbleby described as “cretinous”. This led to his employer having to pay the late Lord McAlpine (whose name was on the list) £125,000 to settle a defamation claim. Even the apology which followed the incident had a mean-spirited air about it, when Mr Schofield appeared to blame the cameraman.

Mr Schofield has one of the largest followings on Twitter (2.99 million, at the time of writing). People with that sort of following carry some responsibility, and if they criticise named individuals they should do so fairly. I think it would be in order if he apologised to Mr Hodder.

 

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Freedom of Information, police, social media

2 responses to “What’s so foolish about FOI?

  1. OK, a celebrity has cocked up.

    Do us a favour and have a #responsible go at your non-celebrity FOI / DP professional colleague Tim (the surname escapes me for the time being).

    Professionally, he’s no Luis Suarez, but he’s regularly sinking his teeth into FoI requesters, even those in the healthy habit of making perfectly valid requests. Can you perhaps turn your beady eye towards him please?

    And before anyone jumps on any clapped out bandwagon stamped “Wirral Council”, and labels me as a timewaster or maker of ‘vexatious’ requests or something, I’ve just got my hat-trick up…

    http://goo.gl/nTCI6t

    So…. Phillip Schofield aside, and with Dransfield’s COA appeal approaching, things are definitely looking up.

    Yours, in the spirit of openness, transparency, public health & safety, and the free and fair flow of information & data,

    Paul

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