The CIJ Logan Lecture

The CIJ Logan Lecture

Fri 19 October at 11:00am.
Curzon Goldsmiths.

For the 2018 CIJ Logan Lecture, the Centre for Investigative Journalism was delighted to welcome Eric Olson to London for a very special talk entitled, “Growing up with fake news — consciousness lost and re-gained.

As part of the programme of our 2018 CIJ Logan Symposium, we were proud to present the inaugural CIJ Logan Lecture. A public session that opened out the conference to a wider audience and reflected on abuses of power by those in positions of influence and responsibly. This session ran independently to the conference and was open to the public.

 


Eric Olson is the principle investigative source and leading narrative voice for the six-part Errol Morris 2018 docudrama miniseries “Wormwood,” now available in 190 countries on Netflix. Eric is the son of Frank Olson, an American biological warfare scientist and Central Intelligence Agency employee, who died in 1953 in what was initially called an “accident,” after “falling or jumping” from a hotel window.

 

 

Twenty-two years later, in 1975, the CIA claimed that Olson’s death had in fact been an LSD suicide. In 1976 the Olson family received a financial settlement from Congress, after receiving the only Presidential Oval Office apology ever given to anyone in the whole of American history, bestowed by Gerald Ford, but engineered by his chief aides Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Subsequent investigations by Eric and others have shown that the LSD story was yet another layer of coverup of what was in fact a brazen murder — a secret execution. Sixty-five years after the incident occurred, a process is underway in New York to have the death officially re-classified as a “Homicide.”

This lecture is about the life and work of Eric Olson, centred around three questions that have obsessed him.

Here is the lecture in full:

CIJ Logan 2018: Growing up with fake news — consciousness lost and re-gained

 

 

To find out more about Eric and Frank Olson visit the Olson Project.

The CIJ and the Google News Initiative to continue delivering Access to Tools

Laura Garcia training in Newcastle

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The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) is delighted to announce that it will be continuing its partnership with the Google News Initiative. Building on the success of last year’s training that was launched in Newcastle in September 2018, the Access to Tools programme will see the CIJ lead 25 workshops between May and December 2019.

The training will take place in newsrooms around the country, bringing skills and techniques available through the Google News Initiative’s suite of applications and other digital tools to local newsrooms, independent media, academics and ordinary citizens around the UK.

The two-hour workshops are free for organisations to host and for participants to attend and will look specifically at tools that can be used for investigations. Thanks to a grant from the Google News Initiative, the CIJ will cover all the costs of the training.

The CIJ’s director, James Harkin said:

“In the last year in a range of cities around the UK and Ireland, Access to Tools has proven a thrilling, demand-led success in helping hundreds of local journalists and citizens discover new digital ways to find things out via advanced search and verification – and in sparking conversations about what these digital tools can do.

“In this new phase we’re going to build on that success by taking the programme to new cities and fresh newsrooms. To meet the growing confidence of our audiences, we’re also going to make our training more customised to particular needs, more story-led and more hands-on.”

Matt Cooke, Head of Partnerships and Training, Google News Lab said:

“We’re renewing our collaboration with the CIJ for a second year, with a commitment to provide journalists right across the country with the tools and training they can use for their investigations. The CIJ trainers offer their expertise and point towards a range of techniques and technologies - and with support from the Google News Initiative they’ll focus on providing workshops for local newsrooms, widening access to digital training opportunities."

If you are interested in booking a workshop for your newsroom, please email: juliet [at] tcij.org

You can find out more on the CIJ website and further resources are available at the Google News Initiative Training Centre.

About the Google News Initiative

The Google News Initiative signifies a major milestone in Google’s 15-year commitment to the news industry, and brings together everything Google does in collaboration with the industry - across products, partnerships, and programmes - to help build a stronger future for news. You can learn more at g.co/newsinitiative

About the CIJ

The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) is a think-tank and experimental laboratory set up refresh the art of investigative journalism, and to train a new generation of reporters in the tools of investigative, in-depth, and long-form journalism across all media. In the 16 years since its foundation, the CIJ has trained over 3000 journalists. #CIJSummer Investigative Journalism Conference, the CIJ's flagship training event, will be taking place on 4-6 July at Goldsmiths, University of London. 

 

 

James Risen

James Risen

Jim Risen, a best-selling author and former New York Times reporter, is The Intercept’s senior national security correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his stories about the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program, and he was a member of the reporting team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for coverage of the September 11 attacks and terrorism. Risen was a target of the U.S. government’s crackdown on journalists and whistleblowers and waged a seven-year legal battle, risking jail, after the Bush administration and later the Obama administration sought to force him to testify and reveal his confidential sources in a leak investigation. He also serves as director of First Look Media’s Press Freedom Defense Fund, which is dedicated to supporting news organizations, journalists, and whistleblowers in legal fights in which a substantial public interest, freedom of the press, or related human or civil right is at stake.

Return to list of speakers.

 

COLLUSION, OR THE NEW MCCARTHYISM?

What is the evidence that the Russian Government colluded with the Trump campaign and pro-Brexit campaigners to win the 2016 Presidential Election and the UK Referendum in the same year? Is there a real and growing body of evidence of Russian disinformation, collusion and assassination, or are we witnessing a new Cold War mentality in which the country is blamed for all of our woes?

Glenn Greenwald, James Risen, Jane Bradley, Mary Dejevsky. Chair: Vanessa Gezari

Programme

Programme

Please click on the timetable for an enlarged view.

 

*Timings and sessions are subject to change.

 

Panels and Talks

 

Friday 19th October

09:30 -- 10:30

 

WHAT SHOULD WE BE AFRAID OF?

Duncan Campbell talks about the landscape of contemporary surveillance and official secrecy in the UK, the US and beyond, with Ian Cobain and John Goetz. Chair: Betsy Reed.

 

10:30 -- 10.45

SCHEDULE 7 AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE UK’S BORDER SURVEILLANCE REGIME

Muhammad Rabbani

 

11.00 -- 11.15

FROM FOIA TO WIKILEAKS

Stefania Maurizi.

 

11.15 -- 12.15

SPIES LIKE US: THE RETURN OF THE ESPIONAGE ACT

The American authorities are increasingly resorting to The Espionage Act 1917 to prosecute journalists, and the British Government prepares its own Espionage Act which conflates journalists, whistleblowers and spies. As TV channels and NGO’s are asked to register as a “foreign agents” and Wikileaks is identified as a “hostile intelligence service”, we ask questions about the relationship between journalism and espionage. Are journalists still being used as spies and informants by intelligence agencies? How best can we best protect ourselves and those we work with against the allegation of spying?

Speakers: Anna Belkina, Stefania Maurizi, Gill Phillips, Paul Lashmar. Chair: Betsy Reed.

 

13:15 -- 13:30

 THE MURDER ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT.

Thomas Hargrove

 

13:30 -- 14:30

SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM

Data is often described as the new oil. Technology companies are the gatekeepers of this wealth of information; many also own the algorithms and artificial intelligence required to extract and refine it. In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, is “surveillance capitalism” simply the business model of the internet? What is its effect on journalism and democracy, and our understanding of truth itself?

Yasha Levine, Sarah Kember, Andy Müller-Maguhn, Andrew Orlowski. Chair: William Davies

 

14:30 - 14:45

THE SECRETS OF THE MACEDONIAN “FAKE NEWS” INDUSTRY

Saska Cvetkovska

 

14:45 - 15:45

COLLUSION, OR THE NEW MCCARTHYISM?

What is the evidence that the Russian Government colluded with the Trump campaign and pro-Brexit campaigners to win the 2016 Presidential Election and the UK Referendum in the same year? Is there a real and growing body of evidence of Russian disinformation, collusion and assassination, or are we witnessing a new Cold War mentality in which the country is blamed for all of our woes?  

Glenn Greenwald, James Risen, Jane Bradley, Mary Dejevsky. Chair: Vanessa Gezari

 

16:00 - 16:15

INVESTIGATING THE INVESTIGATORS

Stephanie McCrummen

 

16:15 -- 17:15

THE NEW ONLINE CULTURE WARS

From the rise of an internet-fuelled alt-right to the therapeutic language of trigger warnings and safe spaces on the left, the new online culture wars are rapidly advancing into what remains of the mainstream media. In this viciously partisan new environment thick with wild conspiracies, anonymous accusations, and the weaponised investigation of one’s political opponents, how should journalism, with its traditional concern for the truth, respond?

Angela Nagle, Stephanie McCrummen, Anastasia Denisova, Marc D Tuters. Chair: James Harkin

 

17:30 - 17:45

TELLING THE STORY OF SYRIA, GRAPHICALLY.

Molly Crabapple

 

17:45 -- 18:00

INVESTIGATING VIA FORENSIC ARCHITECTURE

Eyal Weizman

 

18.00 -- 19.00

AESTHETIC JOURNALISM

From art to architecture, investigative journalism is increasingly borrowing from other disciplines and sources of professional expertise for its presentation and, sometimes, its research. Aesthetic journalism opens up fruitful new avenues for investigation and storytelling, but what are the issues that it raises?

Eyal Weizman, Renzo Martens, Molly Crabapple, Charlotte Cook. Chair: Alfredo Cramerotti.

 

Saturday 20th October

10.15am -- 10.30am

The Gavin MacFadyen Memorial Award

Presented by Compassion in Care and The Whistler.

10.30 -- 10.45

SOURCE PROTECTION IN THE DIGITAL AGE

Frederik Obermaier

 

10.45 -- 11.45am

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO PROTECT WHISTLEBLOWERS?

A thicket of legislation in the UK and US aims to frustrate whistleblowers, and the digital era throws up whole new threats to their interests. What is the best way to protect whistleblowers, both before they make the decision to speak to a journalist and once the story is published?

Frederik Obermaier, Stéphanie Gibaud, Jesselyn Radack. Delphine Halgand. Chair: Julie Posetti.  

 

12.00 -- 12:15

THE HACK LEAK COMBO

Gabriella Coleman

 

12:15 -- 13:15

 

CYBER CRIME AND IRL PUNISHMENT

While the United States is well-known for its draconian punishments for hackers, the United Kingdom is quietly following suit. Using examples from their own work, hackers, activists, and journalists discuss the legal framework which governs cyber crime on both sides of the Atlantic, and why we should all be worried.  

Mustafa Al-Bassam, Jake Davis, Lauri Love, and Barrett Brown. Chair: Naomi Colvin

 

14:15 -- 14:30

LEGAL CHALLENGES TO THE TRUTH IN IRELAND

Ed Moloney

 

14:30 -- 15:30

REPORTING THE TROUBLES: THEN AND NOW

From official British censorship during the Troubles to the “chilling effect” involved in navigating the peace, getting to the truth about the conflict in Northern Ireland has never been easy, and may even be growing more difficult. In a climate thick with political sensitivities and legal intimidation, a writer, a reporter and a documentary-maker talk about how best to get to the truth in Northern Ireland, and what stands in the way.

Ed Moloney, Eoin McNamee, and Sinead O’Shea. Chair: James Harkin

 

15:30 -- 15:45

THE YEMEN DATA PROJECT

Iona Craig

 

15:45 - 16.00

COUNTING THE DEAD IN IRAQ

Anand Gopal

 

16.15 -- 17.00

INVESTIGATION: KHAN SHEIKHOUN

On April 4 2017 the release of toxic chemicals killed scores of people in the Northern Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun: the OPCW attributed the deaths to the Syrian Air Force. Two investigator experts bring very different tools try to shed light on what happened that day, followed by a conversation between them.

Theodore Postol and Eliot Higgins.

 

17:00 - 18:00

WHITE HELMETS AND BLACK-OPS: THE PROPAGANDA WARS OVER SYRIA

With the Syrian conflict in its 8th year, the propaganda on all sides grows ever more intense, never more so than in the barrage of conflicting narratives about the role of The White Helmets. Are they a volunteer organisation working to rescue Syrians on all sides, a propaganda front for Western governments or allies of Al-Qaeda? More generally, can we believe all we read on the mainstream media on Syria - and how do we get to the truth about Syria?

Patrick Cockburn, Anand Gopal, Nour Samaha, and Mowaffaq Safadi. Chair: James Harkin

 

18.00 -- 19:00

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS?

Many serious reporters now make their living as freelancers, with even less support than they enjoyed before. With mafia states, organised crime, and international jihadism circling the profession, what are the contemporary occupational hazards for independent journalists, and what can be done to protect them?

Pavla Holcova, May Jeong, Laurent Richard, and Michael Scott Moore. Chair: Colin Pereira

About

About

Building alliances against surveillance, official secrecy and censorship.

In the last decade data leaks have vastly improved our understanding of everything from the war in Iraq to the machinery of domestic surveillance. But the authorities are striking back. In the UK and US, a wave of surveillance legislation threatens the very existence of investigative journalism, chilling sources and whistle-blowers and making journalists indistinguishable from spies. Internationally the weaponisation of journalism and leaks, together with a thick new fog of electronic propaganda, makes a confrontation between superpowers look increasingly likely. As we inch our way into electronic totalitarianism, we ask where the conspiracies really lie - and who’s conspiring against who.

Curated by the Centre for Investigative Journalism, the third international Logan Symposium brings together a unique global community of engaged investigative journalists, hackers, whistleblowers, artists and experts to London to illuminate the prospects for truth, freedom and democracy - and where we should go from here. Taking issue with sloganeering about “fake news” and “post-truth”, we tackle the conspiracies which thrive on fact-free fringe media and why in our new media age people are prone to joining up the dots in irrational ways. But in an era of dwindling print and TV budgets for real investigation, we’re also asking tough questions about the propaganda which finds its way into our mainstream media diet too. Is the blunt instrument of law and armies of “independent fact-checkers” now being hired by big tech companies going to help? Or is the increasing overpopulation of factoids, and think tanks and activist groups fact-checking their enemies part of the problem? Have we become slaves to the algorithms of information monopolies whose databases are working to predict our every move? Conspiracy theories are more widespread than ever, but is the allegation of conspiracy also being used to silence legitimate arguments, often coupled with the rise of a new McCarthyism which sees the hand of Russia everywhere?

Conspiracy is about the growing machinery of surveillance and censorship and what might be our response to it. New anti-terror laws gift governments with unprecedented powers to spy on the electronic data of their citizens. Should we put our faith in radical transparency and sophisticated electronic techniques with which to evade surveillance, or instead resort to being more careful about what we say? Then there’s official propaganda and subterfuge. Since World War I, the drumbeat to global war has been stoked by modern media. From paid Russian Trolls toiling to Western-funded “media activists” in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, what are the chances for real freedom and democracy when the new media machinery becomes a powerful new weapon of war? The proposed new Espionage Act in the UK, and the renewed threat of prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act in the US, deliberately blurs the distinction between information-seeking investigative journalists and spies from a hostile state. Investigative journalists could be prosecuted for “conspiring” with a source to publish classified information. Are some journalists really spies, and how do we best defend ourselves against the allegation that we are?

Confronted with the growing machinery of state power, Conspiracy presents the tools, tactics and strategies which are reinventing investigative journalism. Faced with the conspiracies on all sides, a unique global network of investigators and doers, rich in practical advice and personal stories, tries to steer a more enlightened path through the confusion and contradictions of our time.

 

Previous Events

#LOGANCIJ Lawrence Wright: Reporting as craft.

Pulitzer-prize winner Lawrence Wright’s career as a staff writer for The New Yorker has taken him from in-depth, narrative reporting of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State to developments within America’s neglected heartlands. To coincide with the 15th anniversary of the Centre of Investigative Journalism, he comes to talk about reporting as craft, his career as a writer and his new book...

Wednesday 16 May 2018 LG01, PSH Building.

Disaster Capitalism: Screening and Q&A

6:00pm start  This years OXFAM scandal brought to light some serious questions for the international aid community. In addition to seemingly widespread sexual abuse and impropriety, best-selling author and journalist Antony Loewenstein's new film Disaster Capitalism investigates whether the aid industry is exploiting development and aid funds to profiteer from growing...

Thursday 12 April 2018 LG01, Professor Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths, University of London

#LOGANCIJ Marty Baron on investigative journalism in the age of Trump

Marty Baron on investigative journalism in the age of Trump Since taking over as executive editor of The Washington Post since 2013, Martin “Marty” Baron has led something of a resurgence at the paper. Before that he was editor of The Boston Globe for a decade, during which time he led its investigation into the cover-up of clerical sexual abuse in the city which became the...

Thursday 22 March 2018 Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre

#LOGANCIJ Åsne Seierstad: Into the Syrian Jihad

Based on her experience of writing Two Sisters, her new book about two Norwegian sisters who leave their home near Oslo for jihad Syria, Åsne Seierstad comes to the CIJ to talk about how to report the conflict in Syria, domestic Islamic extremism and the rise of the Islamic State group. Åsne Seierstad is an acclaimed Norwegian writer and investigative journalist and...

Wednesday 21 March 2018 LG01 PSH Building Goldsmiths

#LOGANCIJ Alexis Okeowo: Women resisting religious extremism.

18:00-20:00 To coincide with International Women’s Day, Alexis Okeowo comes to the CIJ to talk about the untold, incredible stories of how ordinary women in Africa are resisting fundamentalism and extremism, from the Lord’s Resistance Army to Boko Haram.   Alexis Okeowo is a staff writer for the New Yorker and the author of A Moonless, Starless Sky. Between 2012 and 2015 she was...

Thursday 8 March 2018 Room LG02, Professor Stuart Hahh Building, Goldsmith, University of London

#LOGANCIJ. Zelda Perkins: We need to talk about NDAs

Nearly twenty years ago, Zelda Perkins reluctantly signed a non-disclosure agreement with Miramax which prevented her from speaking out about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged harassment and sexual assault of her and a colleague. At the end of last year, she publicly broke that agreement to talk about her experience and shine a light on the improper use of NDAs. Now she comes exclusively to the...

Tuesday 6 March 2018 Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Goldsmith, University of London

#LOGANCIJ Alex Perry on how to turn investigative journalism into narrative fiction.

In the second of our series of talks looking at how investigative journalism can be turned in story, veteran foreign correspondent Alex Perry comes to the CIJ to talk about how he and journalists like him are increasingly working with film and production companies to fund their investigations, and about the writing and selling of his latest book The Good Mothers, the true story about of a...

Monday 12 February 2018 5PM LG01 PSH Building Goldsmiths

#LOGANCIJ Screening: The Post. Followed by conversation with Ted Gup

To coincide with the release of The Post, a thriller about The Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers about the war in Vietnam, the CIJ, in collaboration with Curzon Goldsmiths cinema, presents a showing of the film and a critical discussion of its themes with veteran national security journalist and Washington Post reporter Ted Gup.Chair: CIJ Director James Harkin. Film...

Friday 26 January 2018 Curzon Goldsmiths Cinema, New Cross.

#LOGANCIJ: Misha Glenny on how to turn investigative journalism into television story

Misha Glenny’s critically acclaimed book McMafia told the story of how a brutal network of Chechen criminals morphed into a powerful international crime syndicate. As the book is adapted for a major BBC1 series, he comes to the CIJ to talk about investigative journalism can be turned into story and box-set, serial television.Chair: Director of the CIJ James Harkin. All #LOGANCIJ...

Tuesday 23 January 2018 LG02, Professor Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths, University of London

#LOGANCIJ: Richard Brooks on how accountants got away with murder

Often perceived as dull, the secretive world of international accountancy has grown, cockroach-like, in stature even as the financial world crashed in 2008. Safe from real censure, the world’s biggest accountancy firms have evolved into behemoths – there to encourage tax avoidance, to prop up anti-democratic movements, to push sometimes damaging deregulation, even to...

Tuesday 16 January 2018 LG01, Professor Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths, University of London

#LOGANCIJ: Theo Padnos on reporting Islamism and Syria, and how to survive torture

at 18:30.  An American freelance journalist who’s lived for many years in Syria and the Middle East, Theo Padnos’s unorthodox style of undercover reporting from Yemeni Madrassas had already made him enemies before he was kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in Northern Syria in Autumn 2012. After two years of horrific torture at the hands of his captors, and five days after the execution of...

Wednesday 6 December 2017Room LG02, Professor Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths, University of London

#LOGANCIJ: Jimmy Wales on fake news and how to beat it

Is our news diet making us ill? As the mainstream print media retrenches and new kinds of partisan, “activist”, corporate and fact-free “alternative” media fill the vacuum, the media we consume is full of more hidden additives than ever. What can be done about it? Is it enough to check facts, or is the increasing overpopulation of factoids, and think tanks and activist...

Thursday 2 November 2017Room LG01, Professor Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths, University of London - 5:00pm

#LOGANCIJ: Lowell Bergman On Russia Versus US And The Role Of Investigative Journalism

18:30 - 20:00 In the second of our #LOGANCIJ Talks In the wake of President Trump, there’s been a welcome resurgence of interest in investigative journalism in the United States. But what should its role be? Lowell Bergman, one of the world’s most famous and respected investigative journalists alive whose investigation into the tobacco industry inspired the film The Insider,...

Tuesday 10 October 2017Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Whitehead Building, Goldsmiths, 8 Lewisham Way, London SE14 6NW

#LOGANCIJ: Pussy Riot - Russia’s Official Media And How To Subvert It

Maria Alyokhina, a political activist, artist and founding member of the punk collective Pussy Riot, was convicted in 2012 of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years in prison. Upon her release she helped found Media Zona, an independent media outlet which aims to hold Russia’s justice system to account. In the first of our daring new #...

Wednesday 13 September 20171pm-3:30pm - LG02 PSH Building, Goldsmiths University, 8 Lewisham Way, London SE14 6NW

FOIA without the Lawyer: Interview with Brendan Montague

Dan Hind is the author of two books: The Threat to Reason and The Return of the Public, he speaks to Brendan Montague one of the authors of FOIA without the Lawyer about his experience of using the Freedom of Information Act.

Q1: The Freedom of Information Act has been in force in Britain since 2000. What kind of impact has it had on our ability to hold government to account? How has it changed the way journalists approach stories?

Brendan Montague: Transparency legislation has had a dramatic and lasting impact on government in the United Kingdom because it has led to a significant amount of information about world defining events coming to light. For example, we now have documentary evidence that BP was lobbying Tony Blair’s government for access to oil before the invasion of Iraq, thanks to FOIA requests made by Greg Muttitt, author of Fuel on the Fire.

Only this week, Rob Evans has after seven years of appeals apparently secured access to letters written to government departments by Prince Charles which should provide an unprecedented insight into the influence of monarchy in our democracy. Indeed, FOIA has been so powerful that Tony Blair has characterised it as the worst mistake of his premiership claiming it had been “utterly undermining of sensible government”.

Having said all that, there are some very severe restrictions and transparency in the UK falls far short of what should be expected in a modern democracy. FOIA has been seriously limited by the fact public bodies can rely on more than a dozen exemptions to prevent the publication of requested information. The coalition government resorted to the ministerial veto to block the publication of the risk register examining radical reforms of the NHS despite the fact the Information Rights Tribunal had established the public interest in publication outweighed any harm.

Moreover, these exemptions are abused by departments and authorities and in many cases it takes some detailed legal knowledge to begin to understand how to challenge such misuse. Political expediency still trumps transparency and openness whatever the political parties may claim at the election stump.

Q2: Can you tell me a little about what prompted you to write your handbook FOIA without the Lawyer? What does it set out to do for the reader?

Brendan Montague: There are many guides to FOIA aimed either at lawyers or campaigners which do a really good job of summarising the legislation and explaining the exemptions and how they would apply to different government departments. For example, Heather Brooke’s Your Right To Know (last updated in 2007) was groundbreaking. And yet our experience when we first went to the Information Tribunal was there were no step-by-step “how to” guides on the procedures and necessary steps. The Information Commissioner’s website and the Information Tribunal website did not – as far as I could find – tell the public what a “skeleton argument” was or what a “witness statement” should aim to achieve.

We decided to start with a blank sheet of paper and try and describe to journalist exactly how they could make a FOIA request and how they could themselves navigate the law and the available information to make their case as clearly and effectively as possible. We wanted to avoid reproducing the dense and confusing information made available on government department websites. In the course of making almost 1,000 FOIA requests and taking some of them through the tribunal system we had developed a methodology which could be applied to any request to any department challenging any exemption and that is what we wanted to share with our colleagues in the media.

Reporters do not have superpowers – although journalist inquiry has in some cases been a good reason to force disclosure – so our guide is just as useful to campaigners, researchers, lawyers and members of the public.

Q3: Has civil society broadly defined made as much use of the FOIA as it might have? Could it be used in a more targeted way?

Brendan Montague: Campaign organisations and private individuals have achieved incredible disclosures through FOIA. Maurice Frankle at the Campaign for Freedom of Information was central to forcing the legislation onto the statute books in the first place and is currently engaged in finding appeals which, if successful, would set a precedent that would result in the release of treasure trove after treasure trove of new information. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have both been among the most imaginative and successful in using the Environment Information Regulations and FOIA to force the disclosure of government data.

We know that the political parties themselves have used FOIA to better understand what government is planning and implementing. Defence lawyers have also used FOIA to obtain documents held by police forces in cases of miscarriages of justice. And private individuals have made requests that have changed – or at least allowed us to better understand – the course of history. Much of this activity has largely gone on under the radar although some has made front-page news.

Q4: There is growing evidence that ministers and others are trying to find their way around FOIA - private email accounts, unminuted meetings, government by post-it note. Does this worry you?

Brendan Montague: The public should be extremely concerned about the lengths the coalition government appear to be taking to prevent transparency and openness in government. We have anecdotal evidence that some government departments have resorted to using instant messaging services which are not stored so that email-style communications can take place without leaving a record or trace. At the same time, there are some departments which appear to be accelerating the process of deleting and dumping more historic documents – those more than five years old – to prevent embarrassing revelations. Just before the legislation was enacted the Labour government hired Oxford graduates to enter parliament and destroy records that would otherwise have to be released.

However, it does appear that politicians and senior civil servants are still keeping records in most instances. The fear of leaks is greater than the fear of FOIA disclosures. Moreover, a modern day Sir Humphrey Appleby will be more concerned about retaining proof of a decision or guidance at a meeting to protect themselves than they would destroying a record to protect the reputation of a minister.

Ben Worthy published More Open but Not More Trusted? The Effect of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on the United Kingdom Central Government, in which he confirmed that: “The dominant view is nothing has changed, with a minority describing a slightly positive alternation where, for example, ‘inappropriate’ comments were removed from minutes or notes. Nor was there evidence for a ‘chilling effect’... Many of the officials pointed out that the dangers of not having a decision outweighed the dangers of having one and it being released.”

Q5: A lot of people don't know much about the Act's provisions. Is there a particular format that has to be followed in making a request under it?

Brendan Montague: Making a FOIA request is so simple that many people will be doing it without even realising. When you send an email asking a question or for information to your local council, health trust, police station or central government department you are in fact making a FOIA request.

It is the public body, not the person asking for information, who must recognise that the legislation comes into play, interpret the legislation and where necessary provide all the documentation or raw data. There is a legal right to know. You don’t need to state that you are making a request; you don’t have to live in the UK, in the overwhelming majority of cases you don’t need to provide an address.

However, the real difficulties start when the public body refused to provide the information requested by using one of the many exemptions. The legislation sets out a wide set of reasons why some information should not be given out – commercial confidentiality, national security, British interests abroad, data protection and so on. The use of these exemptions has been tested and argued in complaints to the Information Commissioner, in tribunals and the Supreme Court. Therefore, it can prove extremely difficult to understand when an exemption should or should not be used. To make matters worse, it seems increasingly clear that government departments will misuse exemptions, quote tribunal cases that are actually irrelevant and cause the most outrageous delays in order to befuddle and demoralise the requester to the point where they simply give up.

There are, of course, brilliant and committed information officers who work incredibly hard to make sure the public interest is being served – through either the disclosure or the non-disclosure. But this is far from universal. It is vital that government is open and accessible. Therefore there is a profound necessity to fight those bureaucrats who hide behind process and complexity to frustrate the public and prevent transparency.

Iona Craig Appointed As New CIJ Board Member

The CIJ Board of Trustees is delighed to announce its latest addition, Iona Craig.

Iona is a British-Irish freelance investigative journalist. Since 2010 her work has focused on Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula. She was based in Sana'a from 2010 through 2014 as The Times (of London) Yemen correspondent, covering Yemen’s revolution, America’s growing covert war in the country and the civil war that began in 2014.

Since March 2015, Iona has been the only international journalist to repeatedly cross the front lines to report on both sides of Yemen’s ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis. She regularly returns to the country and to date has travelled over 5,000 miles across Yemen during the course of the war. Her work from Yemen has won six awards including the 2016 Orwell Prize for journalism as well as the 2016 Kurt Schork Memorial Award for international journalism. In 2014 she received the Martha Gellhorn Prize and the Frontline Club award for print journalism, for her undercover investigative reporting. In addition to Yemen, Iona has reported from Djibouti, Turkey, Lebanon, Washington DC and the Occupied Territories.

She is also the spokesperson for the Yemen Data Project (YDP), which collates and disseminates data on the conduct of the war in Yemen with the purpose of increasing transparency and promoting accountability of the actors involved. YDP has been collating data on the Saudi coalition air campaign in Yemen since it began in March 2015. In conjunction with the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, YDP is also collecting data on political violence and protest events across the country.