THE Scottish Government’s practice of treating journalists’ freedom of information requests differently to others is “inconsistent” with the law and should end, according to a new report from the information watchdog.

Its investigation found that FoI requests from journalists, together with MSPs and political researchers, are “expressly made subject to a different process for clearance” than those made by others.

It said this practice was “inconsistent with the applicant-blind principle of FoI legislation”, and was likely to cause delays.

The Scottish Government said it had accepted in full the watchdog’s seven recommendations, including ending its practice of treating requesters differently “solely because of who or what they are”.

Scottish Information Commissioner Daren Fitzhenry investigated the Government’s FoI record and the involvement of special advisers in the process following complaints from the media.

His report uncovered evidence that journalists have been “significantly less likely to receive information” in previous years, alongside “unjustifiable, significant delays and disregard for the statutory timescales”.

It also found a lack of clarity over the role of special advisers in the Government’s clearance process for journalists’ requests, and a “general lack of records of interactions between special advisers and case-handlers in the case files”.

It did not uncover any evidence that the involvement of such advisers resulted in any “deliberate attempt to reduce the amount of information disclosed to journalists”.

Further, the investigation did not find evidence of “malice” in causing delays in the release of information to the media.

However one case featured a deliberate delay while arrangements were being made to publish the information on the Scottish Government’s website and while a “handling plan” was being finalised.

Under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, all requests for information must be responded to within 20 working days.