September 28 was International Right to Information Day. In the States, we call “right to information” Freedom of Information and we celebrate it on March 16. (That is the anniversary of the birth of James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution and in particular, the Bill of Rights.)
Whenever it is celebrated, free access to government documents is a right recognized around the world but rarely put into practice.
A case in point is Brazil.
While the constitution says people have a right to information, legislation putting into place a mechanism to enforce that right has been languishing for years. And part of the problem seems to be that Brazilian media do little to push for the legislators to act.
The study notes that without pressure from the media — there are few civic groups that see the importance of FOI laws — the legislation will continue to languish in the congress.
Compare the lack of action in Brazil to other countries in the region.
Mexico has not only enacted aggressive FOI laws, but continues to fine tune and improve its laws.
Mexico has set a new international standard for transparency legislation with the creation of a Federal Access to Information Institute (IFAI), charged with implementing and overseeing the law at the national level and Infomex, a website that allows users to file access to information requests electronically to federal and local government bodies.
The current economic crisis is affecting how well the law can be enforced, says Freedominfo.org.
Last year Unesco wrote a report on the status of right to information laws in Latin America. It is worth a read. (It’s only 164 pages.)
And the latest news is that the Argentina senate has finally moved ahead with a right to information law. And — unfortunately — it seems that the Article 19 people are the only ones getting this information out to the rest of the world.
Last year the Carter Foundation and the Knight Foundation for Journalism in the Americas produced a report on the status of freedom of information laws in the America.
Americas Regional Conference on the Right of Access to Information
At least this one is only 9 pages but well worth the read.
Bottom line is that for democracies to survive freedom of information laws are needed. And despite the conventional wisdom that these laws benefit only journalists, it is a fact that most of the people using these laws to access government information are NOT journalists.
Most of the people using the FOI laws are average citizens, consumer advocacy groups and businesses.