Editors say access to public info getting harder

Eight out of ten local newspaper editors believe accessing information from public bodies has become

Just ten per cent of editors from weekly and daily titles said getting information from public bodies had become easier. Almost two thirds of editors said reporters from their newspapers had, at some point, been barred from accessing a public meeting or been prevented from reporting details.

Out of this group, 82 per cent said they had challenged those restrictions with 67 per cent claming to have successfully obtained the restricted information or gained access as a result.

Lynne Anderson, NS communications director, said: "The findings of this survey point towards an extremely worrying trend of increased secrecy among public bodies making it harder for local newspapers to perform their scrutinising role on behalf of their readers.

"Local newspapers act as a watchdog for democracy by shining a spotlight on the workings of public bodies and it cannot be right for this vital function to be undermined."

Local papers attend an average of 12 meetings of public bodies each month publishing an average of 30 stories. On average a local newspaper will have a reporter covering criminal courts 2.3 days out of five - excluding freelance and agency arrangements - the survey found. However, it did not ask if the falling size of reporting teams had been a contributory factor in any of the results.

Papers that submitted a Freedom of Information Requests revealed that they were successful in 81 per cent of cases. The average number of FoI submissions from the same group was 16 per newspaper in the past year. The NS, which represents local and regional newspapers across the UK, surveyed 63 editors in its online questionnaire.

Oliver Luft writes for Press Gazette.