By 1990, the number of countries with RTI/ATI laws had climbed to 13.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the rapid growth of civil society groups demanding access to information – about the environment, public health impacts of accidents and government policies, draft legislation, maladministration, and corruption – gave impetus to the next wave of enactments, which peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s
Between 1992 and 2006, 27 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union passed RTI laws, of which Hungary and Ukraine were among the first. During that same period through to the present, at least 42 countries in other regions of the world enacted laws.
By February 2010, some 82 countries had national-level right to information laws or regulations in force – including the population giants of China, India, and Russia, most countries in Europe and Central Asia, more than half of the countries in Latin America, more than a dozen in Asia and the Pacific, five countries in Africa, and two in the Middle East. As of April 2010, when Indonesia’s law entered into force, more than 4.5 billion people lived in countries that include in their domestic law an enforceable right, at least in theory, to obtain information from their governments.
Only 10 countries in Africa (Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea-Conakry, Liberia, South Africa, Niger, Nigeria, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe) have access to information laws, and Zimbabwe’s Access to Information and Privacy Act has been used more to suppress information in the name of privacy than to make information available and accordingly is sometimes not included in counts of RTI laws.
Journalists need to strengthen their ability to obtain information held by public bodies if they are to hold those bodies accountable.
A call to all Africans, particularly those in power, that the political and economic progress they seek flourishes in a climate where the press is free and independent of governmental, political or economic control .
Many journalists in Europe do not generally possess knowledge on the rules for access to European Union documents.
Participants across the countries of Europe highlighted the need for toolkits and resources which would provide them with a functioning knowledge of national laws on access to information, international standards and best practices.
As a result of the survey, the number of journalists using access to information law in their profession across Europe is very low; and among those journalists, investigative journalists are those who are most likely to utilize this tool.
Regardless of a remarkable trend toward adoption of FOI laws worldwide, international experience has shown this does not automatically translate into fulfillment of people’s right to information.
Among other obstacles, freedom of information is undermined by weak mechanisms for access and enforcement, the bad state of record-keeping and archive management systems and poor monitoring of FOI implementation.
Those requesting information, who are actually a minority in every country, often face excessively formal requirements to present requests, significant delays or high fees, burdensome systems for disputing FOI requests’ responses and thus often give up their quests.
The principle of maximum disclosure dictates that individuals should be granted access to all information held by public bodies, except for very limited and clearly specified categories, subject to harm and public interest tests. It is not unusual for exceptions, along with the reference to official secret acts, to justify arbitrary denials of information access.
Setting-up adequate mechanisms for access to public information and its proactive disclosure, as well as related enforcement, record-keeping and archiving (backed by funding and human resources needed for them to work) is central to successful implementation of FOI laws. However, these could still be hindered if a culture of secrecy continues to prevail.
What steps could be taken to encourage a shift toward a culture of transparency?
Post-9/11, heightened national security concerns have come to the fore in debates of exceptions. Such exceptions are linked to sensitive matters legitimately justifying stricter controls, yet they can also lend themselves to abuse. How can this issue be addressed?
How can news media involvement in FOI advocacy efforts positively contribute to adoption and quality of FOI legislation? If media actors lead an FOI movement, how can they ensure broad public support, countering the false idea that FOI mainly concerns the press?