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Access to Information Laws

Media (R)evolutions: Citizens are eager to interact with their cities but need greater access to digital platforms

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Digital technologies have been lauded for their ability to set aside social and geographic boundaries, allowing people to communicate with others from different backgrounds in different parts of the world.  They are also known for their capacity to collect and track data on end users that can be used in the aggregate to inform decision-making. This level of engagement and data analysis led some to wonder if digital technologies would democratize communication and service delivery between governments and their citizens. Civic leaders, the argument followed, who embrace new technologies could benefit from deeper community engagement and increased stakeholder awareness on government initiatives and would be equipped with a steady flow of constituent feedback and a transparent track record.  Communities would be rewarded with insights into the functioning of new systems and the demand for city services as well as means to report inconsistencies or problems.
 
While the dream of proper two-way communication and digital feedback loops has not been realized by most cities, citizens would appreciate direct, real-time interaction with their local governments. While less than one-third of citizens (32%) are currently providing feedback to their local authorities, over one-half say they would like to do so. A large number of citizens (51%) want wider access to digital platforms to enable them to communicate with government or expansion of free wifi in public spaces (50%), perhaps signaling that basics, like access to the Internet and digital literacy skills, may have the greatest impact on citizens’ ability to interact. Many citizens— in both developed and developing countries— still lack broadband access at home and have limited data to use on smartphones. This means that as governments attempt to interact on digital platforms and share information online, they also need to be mindful of the digital divide within communities.
 

 

Does transparency hobble effective governance?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

A remarkable debate on transparency and open government took place on March 15, 2016 at the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri, Missouri, USA.  The issue was: Is American Government too open? Professor Bruce E. Cain of Stanford University argued that “Yes, American Government Is Too Open”, and Professor Charles Lewis of American University, Washington DC, argued that “No, American Government is Not Too Open”. You can watch the debate here.

It is a rich and illuminating exchange, and one that the two professors somehow manage to keep civil. I watched the debate online but in what follows I draw from the written commentary submitted by both professors, and I try to focus on the universally applicable points that each one made.

What influences journalists’ attitudes toward freedom of information?

Jing Guo's picture

The Government of Iraq recently withdrew lawsuits against news media and journalists nationwide and adopted an access to information law in the Kurdish region. Jing Guo explores the range of opinions journalists have regarding freedom of information in a country experiencing political transition.

In December of last year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced the withdrawal of all government lawsuits against news media and journalists under the previous administration, signaling a departure from the media policies of his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki. This announcement, in addition to the adoption of an access to information law in the Iraqi Kurdistan region a year ago, marked a positive step toward freedom of expression and information in the post-authoritarian country.
 
In Iraq, a functioning national freedom of information law is long overdue for supporting an independent media sector and the public’s right to know, both of which are among the fundamental pillars of democracy.  With open access to government meetings and records, journalists can serve as conduits of information between the governing and the governed.  At the same time, citizens and journalists can help strengthen democratic governance by holding those in power accountable.
 
Today, more than a decade after the end of full state control, Iraqi journalists are still largely “in transition.” As proponents and users of the legislation, their views of freedom of information are important in the passing and implementation of the law. What do journalists think about accessing government information in their country? What factors shape their views?

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Why are indigenous people left out of the sustainable development goals?
The Guardian
The great danger in compiling a list of priorities for international development, which is what most of the development industry has been preoccupied with for the past couple of years, is the dreaded “shopping list” or “Christmas tree”. This is where everyone’s pet problem is included and we don’t have a list of priorities at all, but a list of almost everything wrong with the world. So I write this article with some caution. All told, I think the drafting committee for the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which will replace the millennium development goals (MDGs) after 2015, has done a decent job. The fact that there are still 17 goals (which is too many) is a consequence of the pressing problems that global co-operation can help to fix, rather than an inability to prioritise. Nevertheless, there is a gaping hole. Indigenous people are conspicuous only in the fleeting nature of references to them.

Leaders Indicating
Foreign Affairs
The normal rhythm of politics tends to lead most nations’ economies around in a circle, ashes to ashes. This life cycle starts with a crisis, which forces leaders to reform, which triggers an economic revival, which lulls leaders into complacency, which plunges the economy back into crisis again. Although the pattern repeats itself indefinitely, a few nations will summon the strength to reform even in good times, and others will wallow in complacency for years -- a tendency that helps explains why, of the world’s nearly 200 economies, only 35 have reached developed status and stayed there. The rest are still emerging, and many have been emerging forever.
 

Why is the Transparency Revolution not Taking off in Africa?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

When President Jimmy Carter opened the Africa Regional Conference on the Right of Access to Information in Accra on February 7, 2010, he explained why the Carter Center had organized the conference. The main reason, he pointed out, was that with regard to access to information 'Africa has lagged far behind'. South Africa was the only good example he cited. Yet this is at a time when the transparency revolution is sweeping through the rest of the world. For instance, since 2000 an average of six countries per year have passed Freedom of Information Acts, and 80 had done so by 2008.