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  • Blair 1 Beckham 0

    Posted on June 30th, 2009 admin No comments
    Tony Blair : Just in case you had forgotten what he looked like.

    Tony Blair : Just in case you had forgotten what he looked like.

    The National Portrait Gallery has won its fight to keep secret its internal negotiations relating to forthcoming commissions of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Sir Mike Jackson, former head of the armed forces.

    The Gallery said it could not release the internal documents as they were subject to  Section 36 exemption (Prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs).

    It stated that to release the documents during the sensitive period when the gallery was negotiating with potential artists and the sitter would harm its chances of carrying out its public role.

    The Information Commissioner was told that both Tony Blair and Sir Mike Jackson had agreed to have their portraits done for the Gallery and this information was on a public website.

    What the Gallery said it could not disclose was the active discussions about how the commission would be carried out. It also stated that it now publicly releases the price it pays for portraits, but after they have been unveiled at the Gallery.

    The Gallery said: “To provide any further information would prejudice, or would be likely to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs. It explained that making correspondence, emails and documentation publicly available could dissuade the artist or sitter from taking part.”

    The Information Commissioner ruled that S.36 was engaged saying: “Disclosure at the time the request was made would have been likely to have dissuaded the artists and sitters or future artists and sitters from taking part in the process.”

    The Commissioner went on to conclude that although there were Public Interest arguments in favour of disclosure the test favoured the retention of the exemption.

    He said: “The Commissioner accepts that there is some public interest in disclosure but finds that in all the circumstances of the case this is clearly outweighed by the public interest in maintaining the exemption.”

    The full decision notice can be found here. [link]

    A video of a snoozing David Beckham. Money well spent?

    A video of a snoozing David Beckham. Money well spent?

    Editor’s note: The key point to this question is timing. Had the question been asked after the portrait had been unveiled then the decision may have been different, and if the portrait gets a thumbs down from the public does that increase the weight of the Public Interest test in disclosure? The National Portrait Gallery capitulated over releasing the amount it pays artists a few years ago following my appeal relating to a video of a sleeping David Beckham [link]. I would not say this is a complete victory for the Gallery as it will be interesting to see how the arguments are re-balanced once the active commissioning phase of the process are over.