One of Latin America's best sunshine laws goes largely unused, says Mexican information expert

In 1995, academic and media analyst Sergio Aguayo ruffled feathers when he asked what was the president of Mexico's salary.

"At that time, no one was talking about freedom of information and the question was considered offensive," remembered Ernesto Villanueva, a researcher for the National Autonomous University of Mexico, during a recent visit to the University of Texas at Austin.

Nine years after the approval of Mexico's Federal Transparency and Access to Public Information Law, Villanueva said that the greatest challenge is letting the public know how the law can serve them.

"We haven't been successful encouraging the public to take advantage of their right to information," he said during a talk sponsored by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies at UT.

According to Villnueva's investigations, almost 90 percent of Mexican journalists do not know how to make a freedom of information request to access public records. "Few media outlets use this law to conduct investigative journalism," Villanueva said. "Journalists in Mexico, Ecuador and Peru are accustomed to filtered information."

The other challenge he highlighted was using public information to fight corruption. "We've passed from transparency into cynicism," he said. Documenting the corruption is not enough if the institutions that sanction it don't change their ways.

In Latin America there are currently 19 sunshine laws in effect now that Brazil approved its own at the end of October.

For more on this story, see the full post in Spanish here.