What follows an information access law? The fight against Latin America’s secrecy culture

Several Latin American countries have recently adopted information access laws in order to promote government transparency and facilitate the public’s right to know. While the passage of such laws is certainly an important step, a new report notes that legal recognition does not mark the end to the fight for greater transparency, Sociedad Uruguaya reports.

With this challenge in mind, Uruguay’s Archives and Access to Public Information Center (CAinfo) published the report: “Overcoming the Secrecy Culture. Challenges to the implementation of policies and laws for access to information in the region.”

The June 2 report investigates how these laws are functioning in practice, what governments are doing to develop public transparency policies, and what laws are best for countries with conflicts between citizens and the state over information access. The study focuses on information access in seven countries in the region: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay, PortalBA explains. Of the countries studied only Argentina and Bolivia lack national information access laws.

The report argues that “while there are still disparities, evidence from the study of these seven countries shows that having an [information access law] that formally recognizes the right and facilitates its practice and is an advancement in citizen empowerment.” However, according to the Lima-based Press and Society Institute (IPYS) , the author of the Peru portion of the analysis, the report notes the institutional, cultural, and participatory obstacles to making access to information part of the culture of public agencies and offices.

For example, in Bolivia those who request information must demonstrate “legitimate interest” in the topic. Additionally, “the great majority” of public servants in the countries studied “do not seem to have made it their duty to provide access to information in an prompt manner,” and many of the laws do not apply to all public entities. Among the “missing” institutions are legislative bodies and the judiciary, the report says. The most common reasons used by governments to deny information access requests were national defense and privacy protection, especially in Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay.

Along with IPYS (Peru) and CAinfo (Uruguay), the report included contributions from Proacceso (Chile), Fundamedios (Ecuador), the National Press Association (ANP-Bolivia), the Association for Civilian Rights (ADC – Argentina), and the Fundar Center for Analysis and Investigation (Mexico).

The study received support from the Open Society Foundations via its Right to Information Fund.

Other Related Headlines:
» Knight Center (Knight Center map highlights state of information access throughout Latin America)
» Knight Center (Brazilian president bows under pressure to support permanent secrecy of official documents)

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.