FOI: It’s not just a local thing

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Welcome El Salvador to the ranks of governments that  have accepted the idea that its citizens have a right to know (most) of what the government knows.

El Salvador Joins the List of FOI Countries

The latest action by El Salvador also proves that no matter how parochial many may think the freedom of information movement is, it is really global in its reach. In fact, there is even an International Right to Know Day. (It’s Sept. 28, in case you did not know.)

The Carter Center is especially active in the global right to know/information movement.

Last year it held a major conference in Africa. (Report) The year before it sponsored a conference in Latin America. (Report) And it kicked off the regional sessions with a global conference in 2008.

The important point here is that while journalists and journalism groups are some of the most vocal in support and defense of freedom of/right to information laws, they are not the biggest users of those laws. The vast majority of FOI requests come from individuals, civic groups or private organizations.

A good example of how one person used the Virginia FOI laws is recorded in the Fairfax City Patch:

And it is clear that FOI laws are never as strong as we would like. But once the laws are on the books, it is up to the citizenry to use what is available and push for better laws. (This was the basic argument former SPJ president gave to journalists and civic groups in the Dominican Republic in 2005 on the first anniversary of that country’s FOI law.)

If nothing else, promotion and strengthening of FOI laws is a link that journalists and civil society activists share around the globe. Unfortunately, too few in the United States see that connection.

Corporations have globalized. It strikes me that the only way to keep track of what they are doing is to make sure that there are strong FOI laws around the globe as well. It further occurs to me that citizens who are used to having strong FOI laws should be reaching out to those in countries with no or weak FOI laws.

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