Whether RTÉ was justified in refusing access, pursuant to Schedule 3 of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 (Prescribed Bodies) (No.2) Regulations, 2000, to records identifying a source regarding a news story relating to the applicant
1 November 2021
On 5 May 2021, the applicant wrote to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (the Department) asking it to contact RTÉ. She said that there was a statement about her on the news “Nuacht an Aniar” on Radio na Gaeltachta at 5 and 6 o’clock on a specific date in May 2021. She said that she was requesting under the Freedom of Information Act the name of the person who sent it in. It appears that she had previously contacted Radio na Gaeltachta and sought the identity of the news story source. Radio na Gaeltachta declined to release the name of the source but added that An Garda Síochana had confirmed the details of the matter reported upon.
On 15 June 2021, the Department responded to the applicant and informed her that it did not have the information requested and that RTÉ was the appropriate organisation to process the request. It said it was transferring the request to RTÉ. On 16 June 2021, RTÉ wrote to the applicant acknowledging that the FOI request had been transferred to it and said it would revert to her with a decision.
On 12 July 2021, RTÉ issued its decision wherein it refused the request on the ground that the records sought are exempt pursuant to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 (Prescribed Bodies) (No.2) Regulations, 2000 (the Regulations of 2000). On 8 August 2021, the applicant sought an internal review of that decision, following which RTÉ affirmed its refusal of the request. On 29 September 2021, the applicant sought a review by this Office of RTÉ’s decision.
I have now completed my review in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act. In carrying out my review, I have had regard to the correspondence between RTÉ and the applicant as set out above, and to the correspondence between this Office and both RTÉ and the applicant on the matter. I have decided to conclude this review by way of a formal, binding decision.
Scope of the Review
This review is concerned solely with whether RTÉ was justified in refusing the applicant’s request for the name of the person who sent in a report (i.e. the source) on the ground that the information sought is exempt from release pursuant to the Regulations of 2000.
In her application for review, the applicant explained that the news report had a serious negative impact on her health and quality of life. She said that the publication was inconsistent as Radio na Gaeltachta, and RTÉ, had not read out “worse” reports. While I sympathise with the applicant, I must explain for the benefit of the applicant that this Office has no remit to investigate complaints, to adjudicate on how FOI bodies perform their functions generally, or to act as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism with respect to actions taken by FOI bodies.
Furthermore, section 13(4) of the Act provides that in deciding whether to grant or refuse a request, any reason that the requester gives for the request shall be disregarded. This means that this Office cannot have regard to the applicant's motives for seeking access to the information in question, except in so far as those motives reflect what might be regarded as public interest factors in favour of release of the information where the Act requires a consideration of the public interest (not relevant in this case).
Analysis and Findings
On 1 May 2000, RTÉ became a prescribed body for the purposes of the FOI under the Regulations of 2000. The Regulations provide that RTÉ is a public body for the purposes of the Act only in respect of certain functions described in Schedule 2, namely management, administration, finance, commercial, communications, and the making of contracts of, or for, service with any person, company or other body. However, the Regulations further provide that the functions specified in Schedule 2 shall be deemed not to include any of the matters specified in Schedule 3. In other words, if the records sought are held by RTE in the context of matters specified in Schedule 3, they fall outside the scope of the Act.
In its submission to this Office, RTÉ specifically cited the exclusions at parts 1 and 2 of Schedule 3. The matters captured by Part 1 are the “gathering and recording in any form of news, information, data, opinions, on or off the record quotes or views from any person or source, for journalistic or programme content purposes, whether or not a programme is produced on the basis of such information, or is broadcast”.
The matters captured by Part 2 are the “identification of any potential or actual source of information or material for the purpose of programme origination, whether or not such programme is produced or broadcast and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, shall include the consideration of the programme proposal submissions from internal and external sources”.
The information sought in this case is for the source of the news report. This type of information is clearly captured by the matters outlined in Part 1 of Schedule 3. As such, I find that the information sought is excluded from the scope of the FOI Act pursuant to Schedule 3 of the Regulations of 2000 and that RTÉ was justified in refusing the applicant’s request.
Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act, I hereby affirm RTÉ’s refusal of the applicant’s request for the source of a news story relating to her on the ground that the information sought is excluded from the scope of the Act pursuant to the Regulations of 2000.
Right of Appeal
Section 24 of the FOI Act sets out detailed provisions for an appeal to the High Court by a party to a review, or any other person affected by the decision. In summary, such an appeal, normally on a point of law, must be initiated not later than four weeks after notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.