I gather that every single local authority in Scotland has received an FoI enquiry about works of art that they hold. For some reason the enquirer, working for a well-known national newspaper, wants to know how much the things are worth. Actually that’s not quite fair, as the enquiry asks about the ‘value’ of the works of art, but it’s pretty clear that monetary, rather than aesthetic or historic value is intended.

Now I’ve no objection to making public what works of art (or other collections) are held by public authorities - indeed it’s our aim (when we can find the cash and the staff) to put all this information on-line. But I do feel uncomfortable about broadcasting financial information about collections - creating effectively a thieves’ shopping list, and perpetuating (if not actually generating) the idea that it’s the cash value of museum collections that is paramount. And museums after all aren’t about the financial value of their collections. Public collections are not monetary assets, nor are they financial investments.

But what makes me feel even more uncomfortable is the amount of time (and hence public money) being tied up in doing unpaid research for a commercial organisation, in what amounts to nothing more than a speculative unfocused trawl. It really is journalism at its laziest, and I’m sure this was not what was intended when the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 was passed. Perhaps we should charge commercial bodies a search fee, and get some money back into the public coffers. After all, they are planning to use the information to sell newspapers.

This sort of thing has happened before elsewhere. I blame the Antiques Roadshow.

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