Friday 16 January 2015

Information Tribunal ruling on FOIA exemptions concerning Tate Gallery and BP's sponsorship

In the United Kingdom, the Information Tribunal gave its decision last month in three related appeals under sections 41(1) and 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on whether the Tate Gallery was exempt from disclosing certain information concerning financial sponsorship from BP. The decisions are Brendan Montague v Information Commissioner, EA/2014/0040; Brendan Montague v Information Commissioner, EA/2014/0071; The Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery v Information Commissioner, EA/2014/0070. The appeals were brought by environmental campaigner Brendan Montague with the support of arts and activism charity Platform, according to the Guardian.

One appeal related to a request for sponsorship figures, in which the Tribunal confirmed that the "commercial interest" exemption in section 43(2) applied and that the public interest in maintaining the exemption was greater than the public interest in disclosure. The Tate Gallery was nonetheless required to disclose the figures for sponsorship sums from 1990 to 2006, despite the Tate Gallery's argument that knowledge of BP's past level of support would have an adverse impact on negotiations with possible sponsors in 2012 or later.

The other two appeals related to requests for information concerning the activities of the Tate Gallery's ethics committee, including the minutes of that committee's meetings. Here the Tribunal held that the gallery was entitled to withhold disclosure of some of the information contained in the minutes. The considerations that weighed in favour of disclosure were the public interests in transparency of the gallery's decision-making and meaningful public accountability since, in some cases, these outweighed the public interests in maintaining the exemption (which were to safeguard the work of the ethics committee and not to damage the gallery's commercial interests).

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