THE Advertiser has joined the campaign to halt proposed changes that would weaken the Freedom of Information Act.

The Government is consulting on changes that would dramatically increase the number of requests rejected out of hand by public authorities on cost grounds.

The Advertiser is to feature in an ITV West report into the issue aired tonight.

The West This Week will air at 11.30pm with Advertiser editor Mark Waldron explaining why the changes have to be defeated.

The Advertiser has used Freedom of Information to highlight serious issues, including violence in Swindon schools, the number of children facing armed police and the cost of recruiting council chief executive Gavin Jones.

A Freedom of Information request revealed Great Western Hospital planned to draft in the families of bird flu victims to nurse patients, while it has also shone the spotlight on the number of parking fines issued by the council.

Others showed garden waste had been left rotting outside almost 1,000 Swindon homes in two months following missed green sack collections, and it has revealed the cost of overseas town twinning visits by councillors and staff.

Not all requests have shown information that has been critical of the authorities.

One revealed parking inspectors were being rammed by irate motorists, while another highlighted the long history of grime at a restaurant closed by food inspectors.

"One of the key roles of the Swindon Advertiser is to be a watchdog for our readers," Mark said.

"Local public bodies make decisions which are of immediate importance to their lives in such key areas as health, education, housing, transport and leisure.

"Decisions on the way these services are provided and the public money spent on them can be made away from the glare of publicity.

"As a local paper we do whatever we can to scrutinise these bodies and bring matters of public interest to public attention.

"The Freedom of Information Act has helped us gain access to accurate information which is free from any political spin and which might have previously been denied.

"Any changes to the act could allow public authorities the right to refuse us access to information purely on cost grounds.

"It makes the term freedom' of information slightly redundant as it would be easier for this information to once more be locked away."