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Hidden gold is in old Freedom of Information disclosures

There has been some puzzlement about how the BBC obtained important official documents for its item on John Prescott, Philip Anschutz and casinos on Newsnight programme on Wednesday. Freedom of Information Act enquiries take time and this material seemed to have been found too quickly. The answer was not a leak but first rate research skills and a good memory. Good journalism, in other words.

The story is told by Martin Rosenbaum in the BBC’s Open Secrets blog. It is that Government departments put their responses to FoI enquiries on the web. Political reporter David Grossman remembered that the Department of Media, Culture and Sport has made disclosures about the Dome, where Anschutz wants to build a super-casino, in the past.

He decided to see if anything there shed light on the present circumstances and he found gold in the form of a clear link between the DMCS, Prescott’s office and support for the casino plan.

When the Government announced that it would put FoI responses on the web this was seen by many journalists as a spoiling tactic to ruin their chances of a scoop. What Grossman realised was that there was a mine of information which may not have seemed particularly important when it was first disclosed.

This is one case study I will giving to my students.

PS. The spell checker suggested I replace Anschutz with Chutzpah.

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