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openDemocracy hits the big time: two shortlists in Media Freedom Awards

The independent international media organisation is up against five major national titles in each list

3 October 2022, 5.06pm

The government has been criticised for its secretive 'Clearing House', which vets journalists' FOI requests

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Stephen Barnes/Politics/Alamy Stock Photo

openDemocracy has been shortlisted in two categories of the inaugural Media Freedom Awards. The independent international media outlet is in the running for National Campaign of the Year and National Investigation of the Year, up against five major national media organisations in each list.

The UK's Society of Editors is launching this new competition. It previously ran the Press Awards, now administered by Haymarket Media Group.

openDemocracy's campaign entry is for its high-impact work on transparency in British public life. This has led to the closure of the ‘Clearing House’, a controversial government unit that vetted ‘sensitive’ Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, to changes in how members of the House of Lords must report their interests and to record levels of reader involvement in openDemocracy journalism.

It also revealed that a donation of £3m to the Conservative Party appears to guarantee a seat in the House of Lords.

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openDemocracy launched a series of surveys about government transparency which received 10,000 responses from readers. It used the findings in its journalism and also in evidence to MPs. Further, using a tool on its website, readers have sent more than 5,000 emails to their MPs on lobbying and media freedom.

For National Investigation of the Year, meanwhile, openDemocracy entered Samantha Asumadu's work on Imprisonment for Public Protection, which was also shortlisted for this year's prestigious Paul Foot Award.

Thousands of people are in prison with no prospect of release, under a de facto life sentence that was abolished ten years ago. They were introduced by Lord Blunkett when he was home secretary – a decision he now regrets. It’s a scandal most people probably haven’t heard of.

Asumadu spoke to campaigners, prisoners’ relatives and Blunkett himself to demonstrate the widespread human cost of this obscure legal tangle. But she also tracked down documents that showed that people were being kept in prison because their records mention crimes they didn’t commit, and because processes for releasing them have ground to a bureaucratic halt.

Peter Geoghegan, openDemocracy's editor-in-chief, said: "Just this year we have got the secretive Clearing House closed – after Michael Gove dismissed our reporting about it as 'ridiculous and tendentious'.

"But even as our findings about the Clearing House started to bite, in July we revealed how 18 government ministers had refused to release their official ministerial diaries. We had spent a year asking for information that should have been available to everyone: who Johnson and his ministers were meeting, and when, as the COVID pandemic raged in 2020.

"I and my colleagues at openDemocracy will be continuing to work to force transparency on a political class that seems determined to do everything in its power to avoid being held accountable for its actions.

"These nominations shows how important our journalism is. They inspire us to continue pursuing public-interest journalism in the face of serious legal threats.

"What really counts for me, though, is that so many of our readers value our work enough to put their hands in their pockets to support us. I'd like to thank them so much for what they do for us – our success is down to them."

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