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Right to Information


News Updates (Archives) - 2007

Cayman Islands: The Cayman Islands’ Legislative Assembly passed the Freedom of Information Bill 2007 into law on 31 August 2007. The law, which was developed after nearly two years of consultation with the public and other stakeholders, will come into effect gradually over the next 14 months. A Freedom of Information Steering Committee (FOISC) has also been established to guide the implementation process. The FOISC has already established a website through which the public can access all relevant information about the law, how it was developed, and what action the Government is now taking on it. (24/09/07)

Malta: On the 19th July, the Prime Minister of Malta released his Government's proposals for a Freedom of Information law in the paper 'Towards Greater Transparency and Accountability'. The unveiling of this paper builds on recent steps to increase government transparency and sets the stage for the eventual enactment of the country's right to information law. The proposed Freedom of Information Bill (which is included in the paper) promises to grant Maltese citizens access to information held by government bodies, and requires that requests be answered within 20 days with a possible extension of an additional 40 days. The Government remains open to suggestions about the proposals, requesting any comments or recommendations on how to improve the policy and draft bill be given by 31 October 2007. (20/07/2007)

Nepal: The 18th of July 2007 marked a milestone for the right to information in Nepal, with the passage of the Right to Information Bill 2007 by the interim parliamentary legislature following a 16-year struggle to pass such a law. The Bill, which will come into effect after one month, grants access to information held by state agencies and creates a National Information Commission to implement its provisions. The Bill also includes many progressive provisions such as providing whistleblower protection and requiring that public organisations prepare, publish and regularly update information relating to their proceedings. Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Minister for Information and Communications, publicly announced his support for the Bill, stating that he hopes it will help Nepal move towards becoming a more transparent nation. (19/07/2007)

European Union: The European Union (EU) Information Society and Media Commissioner, Viviane Reding, announced Monday that freedom of expression and information are chief prerequisites for EU membership. Reding's comments followed the signing of the first media sector global framework agreement by the International Federation of Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists, and German media group WAZ. This agreement stated the groups' intentions to promote quality journalism throughout Europe; intentions greatly aided by freedom of information and expression. Without freedom of information and expression, journalists cannot fulfill their fundamental obligations as members of the media. (10/07/2007)

Spain: A resolution adopted by the Spanish Parliament on 30 May calls for the representatives of Spain to the World Bank and IMF to report annually on the decisions made on behalf of Spain in these International Financial Institutions (IFIs). The resolution calls for their reports to include information on attempts to eradicate debt in impoverished countries and on progress towards Millenium Development Goals. The resolution seeks to greatly increase transparency in Spain's national development policy as the representatives are currently only accountable to the Ministries of finanace and economy. The resolution would also increase governmental accountability, increasing the public's ability to know how Spanish funds are spent in these IFIs. (10/07/2007)

Bangladesh: Army Chief Gen Moeen U Ahmed has tabled a seven-point proposal for fighting corruption as part of a greater attempt to usher in an era of transparency and accountability in the country. Moeen also stated that he hoped for the introduction of a Right to Information Act and a review of the country's Official Secrets Act in order to reveal government misdeeds that may otherwise remain indefinitely shrouded in secrecy. The army chief suggested that Bangladesh look to other South Asian countries, such as India and Pakistan for examples of how the right to information has helped to curb corruption. (12/07/2007)

UK: NGOs English Pen, Index on Censorship and Article 19 have issued a joint statement to the new Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposing 10 measures for the protection of human rights and freedom of information. Tony Blair oversaw the enactment of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 but there have been many recent attempts to limit civil freedoms. Recommendations included; taking measures to safeguard freedom of information and expression, reforming the Official Secrets Act and providing increased protection for whistleblowers and promoting increased media freedom. The organisations not only called for a governmental reform in the UK but asked that the country to take a stand on human rights at an international level in order to serve as an example for other countries. (29/06/07)

Pakistan: On 26 June 2007, Pakistani media organisations met at a national consultation to issue the Islamabad Declaration which calls upon the government to stop limiting the freedom of the media. The Declaration states that such limitations prevent the full realisation of the people’s right to information and claims “media freedom is an essential prerequisite to the establishment and sustenance of a democratic and just dispensation, transparent, accountable and responsible governance, responsive to the needs, aspirations, and the will of the people”. At the consultation, The President of the Media Commission of Pakistan called upon Pakistani citizens to launch a nation-wide campaign in defence of press freedom and the right to know. (28/06/07)

UK: In an attempt to strengthen the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, Tom Brake MP has introduced the FOI (Amendment) (No 2) bill which received its second parliamentary reading on Friday 15 June. This bill was introduced in response to MP David Maclean's unsuccessful bill that strove to weaken the FOI Act by exempting Parliament from its ambit. Blake's bill would strengthen the Act by removing ministerial veto power, setting a time limit for responses to public interest requests, and extending the range of bodies covered by FOI legislation to public sector contracts. Presenting the bill in the Commons Brake said "My Bill will demonstrate to our constituents that Members are committed not only to protecting freedom of information legislation, but to reinforcing it."
Note: The Freedom of Information (Amendment) (No 2) bill was opposed at second reading in the Commons last Friday and adjourned until 29 June. (20/06/07)

Australia: The NSW Parliamentary Library has produced a briefing paper on the NSW Freedom of Information Act which should prove a great help to individuals and groups trying to navigate their way through the law and use it as a tool to hold the Government accountable. The law, which is known to be full of bureaucratic traps and can be quite confusing, already exempts NSW houses of Parliament from its scope, unlike the laws of India, South Africa, Ireland and Britain. The briefing paper helps citizens understand the law in simple and direct language by giving a thorough overview of the provisions and summarising the key tribunal and court decisions that have changed how the law is interpreted. The paper is considered a key step forward in improving the ability of people to use NSW’s freedom of information legislation. (15/06/07)

Australia: The newly formed Right to Know Coalition has named Irene Moss as chair of its audit of Australian media freedom. Moss has previously served five years as Commissioner of New South Wales’ Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and was also a Race Discrimination Commissioners with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission. There are currently 500 laws which serve to limit the release of public information in Australia and international watchdog Reporters Without Borders has ranked the country’s media freedom poorly. Moss is committed to conducting an impartial assessment of free speech by asking the media what they believe to be barriers to accessing and reporting information. Moss’ report is due to be finished later this year. (15/06/07)

UK: The private member’s bill which attempted to exempt parliament and MP’s correspondence from the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 has failed to receive support from the House of Lords; no peer came forward to sponsor the Bill by Wednesday’s deadline. Although it is still possible that the bill may be revived, it is hoped that it will now be abandoned by the government. The bill has received widespread condemnation by MPs and civil society groups and many were shocked when it was passed by the House of Commons in May. The bill contravenes international best access to information standards and if passed, would greatly weaken the right to information in the UK. (15/06/2007)

Kenya: The ongoing campaign of the Freedom of Information Network to draft a Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill for Kenya has finally been realised. In May, the FOI Bill 2007 was introduced in parliament by the Honourable Gideon Moi; a milestone in the nation’s fight for information. The country’s Officials Secret Act has impeded the quest for the right to access information for many years yet the current Bill has the support of many sections of Kenyan society including many government officials, civil society organisations, and a large percentage of the population. Enactment of the Bill will confirm Kenya as a leading democracy in Africa and set an example for the many African countries still to introduce access legislation. (13/06/07)

Australia: Australia’s leading news media groups including News Ltd., Fairfax, ABC and SBS have launched ‘Australia’s Right to Know’ campaign with the aim of fighting against the restrictions on press freedom resulting from the country’s current laws. According to the campaign, more than 500 Australian legal provisions currently serve to limit public and media access to information. Examples of the types of information the journalists have been denied include an audit of politicians’ expenses, a list of restaurants sanctioned by the health authorities and a ranking of hospitals according to the quality of their medical care. The campaign is calling for a review of the current laws that restrict access to information in Australia. (01/06/07)

Cayman Islands: The Cabinet Office of the Cayman Islands has appointed Carole Excell as Coordinator of Cayman’s Freedom of Information Unit where she will oversee the implementation of the coming FOI law. The Cabinet recently approved a draft of a FOI bill following the attendance of a Cayman delegation at an access to information seminar in Dominica last year. Mrs. Excell's responsibilities will include analysing, formulating and disseminating policies, procedures and guidelines for the entire public sector, as well as monitoring and identifying shortcomings in implementation of the law. (25/05/07)

Kenya: The ongoing campaign of the Freedom of Information Network to draft and publicise a Freedom of Information Bill in Kenya have finally been realised; a milestone in the nation's fight for the right to information. The Freedom of Information Bill, 2007 was introduced in parliament on 17 May 2007 by Hon. Gideon Moi. For the proposed freedom of information policy 2007 to be effective in implementing a FOI regime, they must be premised on international principles and best practices. Disclosure takes precedence is key principle in the implementation of the law, as the country's Officials Secret Act has derogated the quest for freedom of information for many years. Because the government, civil society, MPs, and a large percentage of the population are in support of the bill, a smooth passage is expected. Enactment of the FOI Act will confirm Kenya as a leading democracy in Africa and sets the tone for the numerous African countries without FOI legislation. (18/05/2007)

UK: On the same day that Tony Blair announced his plans to step down as Prime Minister, two individuals received a jail sentence under the Official Secrets Act for disclosing a confidential memo containing details of a meeting between Blair and President Bush. The memo apparently documented Bush’s proposal to bomb the Iraqi TV station Al-Jazeera in order to prevent it spreading negative coverage of the war. The judgment goes against the international best practice of providing protection to whistleblowers and calls into question the government’s commitment to transparency as Mr Blair’s leadership comes to an end. (15/05/07)

China: The China State Council has published its final version of the Freedom of Information Regulation which is due to take effect from 1 May 2008. The Regulation is China’s first national Freedom of Information legislation and creates a general right of access to information for the public. The Regulation places an emphasis on the duty to proactively disclose information which is in the interests of the public, and information that relates to administrative affairs. To help ensure government officials understand their duties to disclose and publish, the Regulation encompasses the details of what the responsibilities are under the law. (04/05/07)

Sierra Leone: The Constitution Review Committee has adopted the Society for Democratic Initiative’s proposal to include a section in the draft constitution requiring Parliament to enact a Freedom of Information law. The proposal received support from the president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Alhaji Ben Kargbo, who recently headed a successful campaign to remove section 25 (2) from the constitution which allowed the President to regulate the media. Both are significant achievements for freedom of expression and the right to information in Sierra Leone (14/02/07)

UK: MP David Maclean has introduced a bill to exempt the UK Parliament and MPs’ correspondence from the scope of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. The amendments have allegedly been proposed in order to protect the privacy of constituents’ letters to MPs; but these are already exempt under the 2000 Act. In a joint press release Article 19, Index on Censorship and English PEN condemned the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, calling it a serious attack on the democratic process and the public’s right to know. Even the newest and most fragile European democracies of Bosnia and Serbia do not exclude parliament from their access laws. (29/01/07)

UK: The Freedom of Information Tribunal has ordered the BBC to publish the minutes of a governors’ meeting that will reveal why former Director General Greg Dyke was forced out following the Hutton report. The tribunal ruled in favour of an application by the Guardian newspaper and Heather Brooke, an open government campaigner; the BBC has been holding the information secret for two years. It is the first success for a national newspaper at the tribunal since the Freedom of Information Act came into force in January 2005. (12/01/07)

UN: The new Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has voluntarily submitted his financial disclosure form to the UN Ethics Office and encouraged others to be equally transparent. Mr. Ban has also committed to publicising the results of his financial review which will be conducted by independent experts Pricewaterhouse Coopers. The financial disclosure forms, which apply to approximately 2000 UN employees, are part of an overall strategy to increase accountability and transparency within the UN. (10/01/07)

Fiji: In a speech supporting the political actions of Commodore Frank Bainimarama, President Josefa Iloilo has highlighted freedom of information as a priority area in the interim government’s mandate. He pledged to: ‘Immediately as practicable introduce a Code of Conduct and Freedom of Information provisions.’ The President also emphasised the pressing need to eradicate systematic corruption in Fiji and promised to establish an anti-corruption unit through the Attorney General’s Office in order to set new standards of governmental and institutional transparency. (08/01/07)

UK: A Home Office attempt to withhold information on national security grounds and deny the Information Commissioner the right of appeal has been quashed by a High Court ruling. In response to a request for personal information received under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, the Home Office ordered non-disclosure and refused to allow the Commissioner the right to view the information in order to challenge their decision. Following an appeal to the Information Tribunal, the High Court overruled the decision affirming that the Commissioner’s powers under the Act “must include the power to challenge the say so of a Minister as to whether or not material is exempt…” (05/01/07)

International: The One World Trust has published the findings of its 2006 Global Accountability Report which assesses accountability levels in 30 of the world’s most powerful international organisations including members of the intergovernmental, non-governmental and corporate sectors. The research focuses on four key areas: transparency, participation, evaluation and complaints mechanisms and scores organisations out of 100. Among the highest achievers were the Global Environment Faculty and Action Aid International scoring 74 and 71 respectively. Low achievers included the International Chamber of Commerce and Human Life International scoring 9 and 16 respectively.

The full report can be downloaded from the One World Trust website. (05/01/07)