By Alejandro Martínez
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed the country’s first Transparency and Access to Public Information Law today March 6, reported the Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP).
The law will take effect in six months for national government organizations and in one year for regional agencies, reported El Heraldo.
According to FLIP, the law requires all government agencies and employees to answer requests for information. It also establishes a minimum of information content that must be published and requires government organizations to present proof and arguments justifying cases where information was withheld.
FLIP called this law a victory for civil society, which promoted the legislation’s creation and approval through the alliance Más Información Más Derechos (More Information More Rights in English).
Speaking for himself, Santos called the law “another step in the fight” against corruption, according to El Heraldo.
In recent years, several countries in Latin America – like Brazil, Chile and Mexico – have approved transparency laws or begun preparing initiatives to improve access to public information.
The topic of information access in the continent was the focus of the most recent Austin Forum, which was organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and took place last November at the University of Texas at Austin. During the event, panelists discussed the different levels of transparency across the American continent as well the obstacles that exist to public information access.
During the forum, Miriam Forero, representative of the organization Consejo de Redacción (CdR), explained that the Colombian law would be the country’s first legislation related to transparency. She added that although there were a lot of positive aspects to the law, it also created certain exceptions which could prove to be new obstacless to public information access. For example, the law establishes a wide range of categories for classified information, for which requests could be denied, Forero said.
Forero also spoke about CdR’s database Zoom Online, an effort to increase transparency in Colombia that has gathered more than 2 million documents obtained through public information requests that could prove useful to other journalists.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.