Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives you the right to access recorded information held by public sector organisations. This includes from the government, schools, hospitals and the emergency services.

Anyone can request information, and is a great way to find out what goes on in the government.

Although some information isn’t available due to being too sensitive, they have to give you a reason for not giving you the information. Other reasons why they can refuse it include the amount that it would cost to gather the information, the request being too broad or industrial use.

Using the FOI Act is a great way to find stories, as it gives out information that might not be previously known. It can also be used to gather evidence for a story you are already researching.

The Official Secrets Act

The Official Secrets Act is ‘legislation that protects state secrets and official information, mainly related to national security’.

This protects the protection of official information that is mainly related to national security.

People working with this sort of information are often required to sign a statement agreeing to abide by the restrictions of the Official Secrets Act. However, this is not a contract but more of a law, it doesn’t matter if they don’t sign it they have to abide by it.

This act is designed to protect official information from disclosure, and was first enacted in 1889. It means that people who have signed the statement cannot disclose information relating to; security or intelligence, defence, international relations, information that would assist criminals.

Relating to journalism, the Official Secrets Act states that ‘Under the Official Secrets Act 1911, it is an offence to obtain, collect, receive or communicate any information that might be or is intended to be useful to any enemy’.

Although it is not often that journalists come across information that could be under the Official Secrets Act, it is necessary to be knowledgeable about it for future reference. Publishing any information could have serious consequences such as a prison sentence, so it helps to understand what sort of information would come under the act.

The electoral system

There are currently six types of elections. These are;

  • General elections
  • Elections to devoted parliaments and assemblies
  • Elections to European parliament
  • Local elections
  • Mayoral elections
  • Police Commissioner elections

The main method for elections is ‘first-past-the-post’. This means that whoever gets over half of the votes first wins.

The UK is split in to districts/ constituencies, and to get a seat they need to get the most votes from their district. The more seats a political party have, the more likely they are to get votes passed.

There are two houses of parliament, the House of Commons and House of Lords. The House of Lords are made up of a mixture of representatives, some chosen by the Queen and some who have inherited their seats. They scrutinise government policy and debate major issues. Their main purpose of to revise and amend government proposals for new laws.

The House of Commons are made up of 646 MPs, that represent the 646 areas of the UK. This is where the creation of laws happen.

Left wing parties generally;

  • Support social equality
  • Are anti-war, pro- choice and pro-gay marriage
  • Believe in the strict separation of church and state
  • Are pro-environmentalism
  • Are for high taxes and a bigger government
  • Are for a ‘nanny government’

Right wing parties generally;

  • Are pro-military and pro-life
  • For a greater role for religion in public life
  • Are anti-gay marriage
  • For lower taxes and smaller government
  • Oppose nanny government

This has really helped me to understand how the electoral system works. Although I have heard about it previously on the news and in newspapers, it has never really been explained in a way in which I understand.

I think that the way that the current voting system works is suitable, however it does mean that it could be unfair. This is because the seats won do not always reflect how many people have voted for the party. That is why some people want to change the voting system to ‘proportional representation’. This would ensure that the number of seats won by a party is proportionate to the number of votes received.

However, this could make it difficult to decide who take the seats, as usually the person that wins in their district take a seat in parliament.

Planning and Licensing

Planning

When someone submits a planning application, the application is advertised. This is so people in the area can have their say. The council then meets up and discusses the positives and negatives that come with the proposed development. The local councillors then decide whether it should be approved or denied.

If a planning application is denied, the developers can appeal the case. The councillors make their decision based on different planning policies. The council also enforce regulations and conditions if the application is approved.

This can be a great source for stories, due to the opposition the application can face.

Licensing

Licensing is deciding whether or not places should get a license to sell alcohol. Much the same as with planning applications, the councillors debate the positives and negatives, and then decide whether or not to give a license. Again, the applicants can appeal this decision if it is refused.

The main way to report these meetings are to read the agenda, which is given out to those that attend, and to research the applications. Also, ringing up people that are involved is a good way to find out more information not mentioned in the meetings. If attending meetings, you should always understand what has been said before leaving, otherwise you will not fully understand what you are writing. Attending meetings is also a great way to get peoples reactions.

Although a great way to find stories, I think it would be difficult to understand what is being said during the meeting unless you have researched beforehand and have had previous experience of this sort of meeting. During our lecture we had a go at summarising a planning application agenda, which I found extremely difficult. However, if you gain the proper information, it could be a great local story, as people are always affected.

Twitter reporting

Twitter is now one of the main tools for court reporting. The Stephen Lawrence case confirmed this, that live social media reporting was at the heart of the job.

Although prosecutors were trying to ban the use of twitter during the court case, the judge accepted that it wasn’t being used for comment, but for a means to report.

However, is it very easy to get wrong. Before tweeting you need to make sure that all of the facts are correct, and that you are not violating any court orders, such as mentioning a person’s name who is involved.

I agree that twitter is now one of the main ways to report, especially because of the amount of people a tweet can reach. It is also a great way to find stories.

Council reporting

There are three main different types of council, county, district and parish/ town councils. The county council run services across the country, for example education, transport and social care. District and borough councils run a smaller area, such as a city, whilst parish and town councils run things on a local level. This includes issues like planning applications.

Hull City Council- the main council in my local area, run several different areas. These include:

  • Housing- approving tenants
  • Bins- emptying bins, sorting out waste
  • Lighting- running street lights
  • Roads and pavements- maintaining roads, repairing pot holes
  • Parks- upkeep and maintenance of parks
  • Social care- youth work, fostering and caring for the old
  • Education- running the local schools

The council is made up of both council officers and employees. The decision makers for each council are locally elected, each spending around four years in office. The councillors are accountable to residents, and are funded by a mixture of grants, council tax, and section 106 planning. Section 106 planning is when a company give a sum of money to the council to overcome intense property development.

The main way to report on councils is to attend council meetings. You can also research FOI requests that have been made in the area, and looking into campaigns and complaints.

I found this lesson interesting as I had no previous knowledge about the council. I didn’t know how many services the council run, and now understand what councillors do. I think looking into FOI requests is a great way to find stories, as it can cover a broad range of subjects. Also, I think attending council meetings would be a good idea, as you can find out the most up to date information all in one place.

36D

This is one of The Beautiful South’s more controversial songs, which is said to have made female vocalist Briana Corrigan leave. This is because she thought it looks at glamour models in a negative light.

The song is about a woman who uses her looks for cheap, meaningless sex, maybe even becoming a prostitute. However, it devalues her as a person, and it is clear that Paul does not like the woman he is singing about, singing “36D so what, is that all that you’ve got”. This could mean that he thinks all she has is her looks.

“You’re just another 365 night stand, but you’re so handy”

“You cheapen and you nasty every woman in this land, but you’re so handy”.