Freedom of the Press: Access to Information for All
As the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day on May 3, many people around the world are unable to practice this freedom. This day serves as both an occasion to inform the public of violations to the right to freedom of expression and as a reminder that many journalists and people brave death or jail to bring people their daily news, but also commemorates the importance of Freedom of Information Acts (FOIAs) or the Right to Information Acts (ROIs) which gives people the right to request information from their governments.
In Voice and Choice: Opening the Door to Environmental Democracy the the World Resources Institute highlights the importance of FOIAs in ensuring good governance practices. In many countries around the world there is a growing number of countries which have enacted FOIAs. A 2006 survey identified 69 countries with freedom of information laws (Banisar 2006), and many other countries are considering such legislation.
The UN News Centre’s Article from April 29, 2010 Public Right to Information essential to Good Governance, stresses the importance of the right to information which impacts the livelihoods of people. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a wholesale change in attitudes towards press freedom stating at a panel discussion held at United Nations Headquarters in New York “there is a global trend towards new laws which recognize the universal right to publicly held information. But these new laws do not always translate into action. Requests for official information are often refused, or delayed, for years. At times, poor information management is to blame. But all too often, this happens because of a culture of secrecy and a lack of accountability.”
In a lot of countries local media are making a large majority of the FOIA requests in order to write stories and overcome cultures of secrecy. According to the World Association of Newspapers and New Publishers (WANIFRA) in 2009, 99 journalists were killed,137 journalists were jailed and 573 journalists were arrested.
As the world continues to find a way forward it is important that we remember to be thankful for the freedom to information and the press.