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  • Help on S.44 wanted….

    Posted on January 16th, 2012 admin 6 comments

    Schoolgirls getting their 15 minutes of fame

    Today I’m asking for help as I seem to have come up against something of an FoI brick wall.

    Some of you may know that one of my recent pet projects concerns a show called #Educating Essex which was broadcast on Channel 4.

    My problem with the show is at a time when print journalists (and I include myself in that dwindling tribe) are pilloried every day for our lack of ethics, sensitivity and soul those people producing fly-on-the-wall documentaries are, on occasions, getting away with much more.

    The school is questions, Passmores in Harlow, Essex, have received an FoI request from me and an appeal has now gone to the Information Commissioner.

    But I also complained about the exploitative nature of the show to Ofcom, who responded to my concerns to say that I need not worry myself. Here is its e-mail to me. Ofcom response.

    I then thought it would be worth e-mailing an FoI to Ofcom to see if that would unearth something worthwhile. Can I please see all the corresspondence you hold that relates to investigations/queries/letters/e-mails between yourselves and the producers of #EducatingEssex, or yourselves and the school, in relation to the producers ensuring that the programme makers ensured that it did not breach the Ofcom Broadcasting guidelines?”

    Unfortunately the response I received says that it cannot disclose anything to me as it is all covered by S.44 (prohibition on disclosure) by virtue of S.393(1) of the Communications Act. Ofcom Response to FOI

    My question is, does anybody know how I might be able to rephrase my query with Ofcom to extract any information from them about the show?

    S.44 is an exemption that I have managed to avoid in the past and such a sweeping use of it would surely make Ofcom virtually un-FoIable. Help.


    6 responses to “Help on S.44 wanted….”

    1. I’m aware of three s44 ICO cases that relate to the Communications Act, however none of the appeals were very successful.

      The ICO DNs could provide ideas on how to appeal, eg by asking Ofcom to obtain consent to release the information, to argue that a school is not a “business”, or to argue that s393 does not apply.

      With regard to s44 in general, HMRC is another case in point - they have sections 18-20 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 available to them, and it’s is almost a blanket provision to withhold information - we would not have found out about Vodafone’s deal with HMRC without a whistleblower.

    2. Alex,

      Many thanks for that. It is interesting you raise the issue of HMRC. I’ve also come up against S.44 when I’ve asked what I thought were fairly straightforward questions about how much corporation tax companies have paid. The exemption aside, surely knowing how much each company pays, or doesn’t pay, in corporation tax is something we should be allowed to know?

    3. Dear Matthew

      I think the work you do is vital for truth and transparency but I am at a loss as to why you would target the school and head teacher from this excellent series. As you know FoI requests are time consuming and if you are not used to them, quite scary.

      The school portrayed in the series, and the individuals in it, do not deserve the level of vitriol that you are showing them. We can all disagree with their approach or any individual interaction but we don’t live in that town and do not have to send our children there. Please reconsider this unjustified, in my opinion, attack and people that are trying incredibly hard to make a difference.

    4. Mike,
      I accept your point in that for an organisation such as a school a FoI request might cause them some concern. However, look at what I’m asking. Did they get any money from allowing Channel 4 for an exploitative documentary that invade the privacy of children? They should be able to come up with an answer for that. It’s not a difficult question, just one they would prefer not to answer.

    5. Dear Matthew

      I was wondering whether you had any further developments in this? I still read your initial piece and shake my head at your personal attacks on the headteacher but I guess you can sleep at night. Didn’t it say in the original reply from the school that no one received any money?


    6. Dear Matthew

      Any further news on your request or have you decided to leave this poor school alone now?


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