Constitutional Norms Often Not Reflected in Official Practice or Citizen Attitudes

31 October 2008

First-ever Nationwide Study Asks, “Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?”

St. Petersburg, Russian Federation — The leading access-to-information organization in Russia has published a detailed legal and sociological analysis of the state of access in the Russian Federation, identifying contradictions between the Constitutional right in Article 29 (for every person to “seek, get, transfer, produce and disseminate information by any legal means”) and the actual legal norms and official practices, according to English-language summaries and web links published today by www.freedominfo.org

Among other recommendations, the new study argues for the passage of access laws at the federal and regional levels to fulfill the Constitutional mandates, changes in the existing law on state secrets, and a shift in bureaucratic (as well as citizen) attitudes towards seekers of information from that of “supplicants” to that of “customers.”

Founded in 2004 by lawyer Ivan Pavlov in St. Petersburg, the Institute for Freedom of Information Development has achieved major improvements in government agency websites as well as litigation success in opening certain information monopolies.  The Institute’s goals center on “investigating, identifying and solving problems of access to socially significant information,” with a particular focus on electronic media as a powerful instrument in achieving transparency and access to government information. 

The Institute has conducted annual detailed surveys of government agency websites to evaluate the extent to which the agencies comply with the law and the ease of access to information on the agency’s activities.  This monitoring process has produced at the end of each year a comprehensive rating and ranking of the openness of the federal bodies of executive power (with respect to information openness).  As a result of these audits, the content and quality of government websites have improved substantially, and the experts of the Institute have been asked by several agencies directly to consult on improvement of agencies’ sites.

In addition to monitoring government websites and public advocacy for openness and accountability, the Institute lawyers have initiated important litigation including cases before the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.  As a result of litigation by the Institute, by the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, the federal Committee on Technological Regulations had to publish online the federal technological standards that had previously been monopolized by a fee-charging business—a ruling that represented a breakthrough for small businesses and citizens.  In 2007, the Institute initiated 15 legal cases defending the right of citizens to obtain socially significant information.

At a October 9, 2008, press conference in St. Petersburg, the Institute released its extensive report on freedom of information in the Russian Federation, consisting of legal analysis of the state of laws and regulations in the informational sphere, and a sociological survey of users and providers of information resources.  The report was the first study of this kind of freedom of information in Russia, which still does not have a formal Freedom of Information law. 

The Institute’s sociological survey found that most government officials are not aware of problems with access to information while most citizens perceive limitations on access to information but do not always see this situation as violation of their constitutional rights.  The National Report provides a basis for national debate on freedom of information in Russia and a rallying point for openness advocates working toward adoption of a freedom of information law under President Medvedev, who earlier this year (July 17, 2008) identified free access to information as one of the most meaningful characteristics of democratic and economic development.

DOCUMENTS

National Report on Freedom of Information in Russia — Full report in Russian (PDF)

National Report on Freedom of Information in Russia — English summary (PDF)

Institute for Freedom of Information Development: "Access to Information: State Secrets and Human Rights" — December 2006 (PDF)

Back to top

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: ,

Filed under: What's New