Acess to information: Alison Meston


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Alison Meston's presentation, as presented at the 2011 African Media Leaders Forum.

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Acess to information: Alison Meston

  1. 1. Access to Information <ul><li>The first Right To Information law was enacted by Sweden in 1766 </li></ul><ul><li>Finland was the next to adopt, in 1953, followed by the United States, which enacted its first law in 1966 </li></ul><ul><li>The interest in Access To Information laws took a leap forward when the United States, reeling from the 1974 Watergate scandal, passed a tough FOI law in 1976 </li></ul>
  2. 2. Access to Information <ul><li>By 1990, the number of countries with RTI/ATI laws had climbed to 13. </li></ul><ul><li>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 </li></ul>
  3. 3. Access to Information <ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Access to Information <ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Access to Information <ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><li>Only nine countries in Africa….. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Access to Information <ul><li>Journalists need to strengthen their ability to obtain information held by public bodies if they are to hold those bodies accountable. </li></ul><ul><li>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 . </li></ul>
  7. 7. Access to Information <ul><li>Many journalists in Europe do not generally possess knowledge on the rules for access to European Union documents. </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Access to Information <ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Access to Information <ul><li>The main reasons given by the journalists for not using access to information law include: </li></ul><ul><li>no certainty of getting information; the passive response of public agencies (administrative silence); </li></ul><ul><li>the long time frames stipulated by the law for receiving information (3 or 4 weeks is long in journalistic terms) and for appeals; </li></ul><ul><li>the cost and time involved in taking appeals. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Access to Information <ul><li>The survey also revealed that there is no mechanism to provide guidance or knowledge to journalists on filing information requests or on how to appeal against the decisions of public bodies. </li></ul><ul><li>Training is the key – both public officials who provide the information and journalists who request it. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Access to Information <ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Access to Information <ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  13. 13. Access to Information <ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><li>What steps could be taken to encourage a shift toward a culture of transparency? </li></ul>
  14. 14. Access to Information <ul><li>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? </li></ul><ul><li>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? </li></ul>
  15. 15. Access to Information <ul><li>How can news media support effective implementation, enforcement and monitoring of an FOI law? How can the media help create demand and promote direct public exercise of the right to know? </li></ul><ul><li>How can the work of journalists benefit from FOI laws? What skills do journalists need to take advantage of FOI legislation? </li></ul><ul><li>How can we use the Pan African Call to Access to Information to implement FOI/ATI laws? </li></ul>
  16. 16. Access to Information <ul><li>Resources: </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>