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Freedom of Information

FOI: Through the Looking Glass

Paul Mitchell's picture

I was passing through Accra recently and while walking through the lobby of the hotel was stopped by a poster for a regional conference on Freedom of Information and at the same time ran into several colleagues and old friends. It was an interesting exercise to be very aware of an issue and personalities but be on the outside looking. The conference was well attended, drawn by the start power of former US president Jimmy Carter, his center and high level activist and political figures from Africa. The Carter Center which has been at the forefront of this work is able to draw attention to and raise the profile of the issue in West Africa.
 

But what did it all mean to local people? When I asked Ghanaians working or staying at the hotel about the conference, there was very high recognition but mostly it was linked to former President Carter. But the issue drew little recognition or excitement. Ghana did announce that after years of languishing on the books an FOI bill would be introduced into Parliament. But to the people outside of the conference this would have little impact on their daily lives. Their worries were much more about food, shelter, safety, schooling and the actions of the government in power on their lives. 
 

Just Because It's Legal Doesn't Make It (a) Right: Citizen Access to Information in Latin America - PART 2

Antonio Lambino's picture

A follow-up to an earlier post on Toby Mendel’s new book The Right to Information in Latin America: A Comparative Legal Survey.  11 country cases and a comparative analysis chapter are organized around the following categories: definition of access to information (“The Right of Access”); rules for processing of information requests (“Procedural Guarantees” ); public authorities responsible for disclosure (“Duty to Publish”); grounds for refusal to disclose (“Exceptions”); complaint mechanisms for refusal of access (“Appeals”); punishment for obstructing access (“Sanctions and Protections”); and public engagement and education (“Promotional Measures”).  

The systematic manner in which Mendel breaks down each country analysis gives the reader a comparative sense of the 11 Latin American countries covered.  As I continued going through the country chapters, I gained an appreciation for the various dimensions of how the “right to information” has been institutionalized to varying degrees in different countries in the region.  It became clear to me that all these categories are important in getting a sense of whether the “right to information” is indeed a right since, as we know, when it comes to law, the devil lurks in the details.

Just Because It's Legal Doesn't Make It (a) Right: Citizen Access to Information in Latin America - PART 1

Antonio Lambino's picture

UNESCO recently published Toby Mendel’s The Right to Information in Latin America: A Comparative Legal Survey.  The book is organized around the following sections: international standards and trends; features of a Right to Information Regime; 11 Latin American country chapters; and a comparative analysis on the legal and regulatory aspects of the issue.  While Mendel’s new volume is a significant and substantial addition to the policy scholarship on this topic, what struck me initially is the boldness of the book’s title.

The title audaciously starts with “The Right to Information…”, in stark contrast with an earlier major publication on the same topic by the same author entitled Freedom of Information: A Comparative Legal Survey, first published by UNESCO in 2003 with a revised edition released in 2008.  As I started reading the chapter on international standards, I found that Mendel explicitly states the reason for this:

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