Argentine’s Access to Information Law: A Tale of Two Chambers

14 January 2011

By Natalia Torres

Senior Researcher,  Center for Studies of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information

In 2003, the Argentinean House of Representative endorsed a bill on access to information law. In accordance with our bicameral system, the bill was sent to the Senate for revision. During this revision process, the Senate committees modified the project and, in 2004, the upper chamber finally approved a controversial new version of the bill of law.

The controversial bill ended up at a crossroads: either the lower chamber accepted these changes and approved a poor version of the project; or it insisted on it´s own version of the bill, which would mean going against the will of the incumbent party in an electoral year. The result is very well known: the project lost its parliamentary status and Argentina remained without comprehensive legislation on the matter.

Movement Seen in 2010

Changes in the legislative composition seem to have encouraged a new round of debates at the National Congress. Both chambers were working on different versions of access to information regulation and were even competing against each other for being the first to kick off the debates on the matter.

During 2010, the project was analyzed by the Senate Committee on Constitutional Affairs. The committee discussed the main aspects, such as reach and exceptions, of the legislation, and evaluated different alternatives of institutional designs for the implementation of the regulation.

The bill of law, now approved by the Senate, reflects these debates, and includes not only some of the comments added by the Senate, but also suggestions introduced by experts and advocates invited to participate in the debate. For example, the project incorporates CELE´s recommendation to include the fundamental caveat that the request of information should never violate freedom of expression and should always protect journalistic sources.   

House Action Awaited

It is probably redundant to say that the perfect text does not exist, and it may be superfluous to affirm that this project could be improved. Indeed, although the project could be enhanced, it is reasonable to imagine that any modifications imposed by the lower chamber may result in the death of the project.

According to the debates that we have followed last year, if the project is modified and sent back to the Senate, it would probably end up at a dead end. Since the Senate´s approval of the project, some of the committees of the lower house have expressed their willingness to pass the legislation.

To sum up, this is the second time that the National Congress analyzes a bill of law on access to information.  This is also the second time that one of its chambers approved a project and we wait for the definite sanction of the legislation. Marx used to say, “…all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice.” We hope that this second time, this tale of two chambers concludes with the definite approval of a Law on Access to Information.

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