One year after its launch, Brazil's sunshine law is not evenly respected by public agencies, study finds

By Isabela Fraga

One year after Brazil's Access to Information law took effect, fewer than half of the public agencies respect the law and the Executive branch receives the most information requests--and complaints--from journalists, according to independent research from Article 19 and the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI in Portuguese).

Article 19 analyzed the responses from 141 access to information requests made by civil organizations to more than 70 government bodies across all branches of government on subjects like water access, radio broadcasting, plurality and diversity and monitoring the Access Law. Based on these requests, 32 percent were left unanswered, 44 percent were satisfactorily addressed (providing complete information or providing a legal justification for a partial release), and 23 percent were incomplete.

While the Ministries provided full access to information requested 70 percent of the time, the performance of regulatory agencies was much worse: more than 70 percent of the requests remained unanswered. At the state and municipal levels the result was also frustrating: over half of the requests were unanswered and not one state provided full access to a request.

Journalists' View

ABRAJI's report (PDF) analyzed the responses of 87 Brazilian journalists working in the mainstream media, including companies like O Globo, Folha de São Paulo, Esatdo de São Paulo, Correio Brasiliense, SBT, Record, Veja and Época. Out of the requests made by these journalists, 79 percent were to the Executive branch, 27 percent to the legislature, and 28 percent to the courts. With the highest number of requests, the executive branch was the least compliant: at least six in 10 journalists described problems when requesting information from that office.

While the legislature and the judicial branch received fewer requests at the federal level, the percentage of complaints from journalists about these branches was similar to that of the executive: nearly 60 percent (15 journalists) said they had trouble accessing information. Across all branches of government, the problems described were administrative in nature.

Considering the fact that access to information has improved in Brazil, albeit still with many problems, Article 19 and ABRAJI compiled suggestions to better the sunshine law's application to benefit journalists and civil society organizations. Some recommendations included:

  • The adoption of open data standards by public agencies when releasing information;
  • Regulation of the kinds of data businesses with public service concessions, mixed-capital companies and government agencies should provide;
  • The creation of an "independent, unified and specialized" body to implement and oversee the Access to Information Law;
  • Increasing active government transparency beyond when citizens make requests

Article 19 will present its complete report on May 22, "A year of transparency: Uses and abuses of the Access Law," at 9 a.m. at the Superior School of Advertising and Marketing in São Paulo.



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.