Intended for healthcare professionals


Secret government revisited

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 26 June 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1712

Draft Freedom of Information Act may be a step backwards

  1. Martin McKee, Professor of European public health. (
  1. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT

    Three years ago Lang and I argued in the BMJthe case for a freedom of information act in the United Kingdom.1 Citing a series of examples in which the public had lost confidence in the health advice given by government, we contended that a much greater openness was required if public trust was to be restored. Last month the British government unveiled its much heralded proposals for a freedom of information act for the United Kingdom. How does it match up to the expectations?

    Since we wrote about it three years ago, the case for greater openness has strengthened considerably. The revelations emerging from the inquiry into bovine spongiform encephalopathy,2 the fiasco surrounding tobacco sponsorship of Formula One racing,3 and, most recently, the disclosure that the government is seeking to influence the media coverage of genetically modified food are only the most obvious examples of the need for action.4 And the benefits of disclosure are also becoming clearer. British campaigners on safety and the environment have made increasing use of the United …

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