FOI Notes: India, Latin America, Scotland, US, Gambia, OGP, Video, Tunisia

14 June 2017

India: A court sentences RTI activist Nikhil Dey and four others to four months in jail in a 19-year-old case related to their effort to obtain information about local corruption, according to an article in The Citizen. The activists were assaulted by a village official, who then charged them with assault. The sentence has been suspended pending an appeal. The Times of India reported that academics and members of civil society reacted with disbelief over the verdict. Former central information commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi said this was a “sad comment on our nation.” Aruna Roy from MKSS called it “an utterly false case filed by a corrupt powerful Sarpanch who misused his influence and power and who had himself physically assaulted them for demanding information,” MoneyLife reported.

Latin America: “Access to information: Lessons from Latin America,” by Bill Orme, a former journalist and independent consultant specializing in media development and strategic communication. “Using the testimonies of three freedom-of-expression decision-makers involved in the implementation of access to information laws in three complex Latin American countries: Jacqueline Peshard (Mexico), Juan Pablo Olmedo (Chile) and José Eduardo Elías Romo (Brazil), Orme introduces the reader to the complexities of implementing these policies in the real world.” Access the Spanish version. Access the English version.  “This report reviews the regional implications and challenges of the indicators endorsed by the UN to monitor progress towards SDG16.10, and shows how the Latin American experience in this area offers valuable lessons for other countries and regions.”

Scotland: The BBC reports on a parliamentary debate in which some members called for a “wholescale review” of the Scottish government’s freedom of information practices. Neil Findlay decryied a “systematic avoidance of scrutiny and accountability from the highest level.” Journalists recently signed an open letter raising concerns about the way FoI requests are handled. See the FoI debate live.

United States: Steven Aftergood reports in Secrecy News that the Department of Defense is asking Congress to enact a new exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for certain military tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as rules of engagement, that are sensitive but unclassified.

United States: New York Times FOIA attorney David McCraw writes about the paper’s use of FOI, commenting along the way: “No matter how well meaning the officers, default position for any bureaucracy will inevitably be to withhold documents.”

Gambia: Commentary calling for a FOI law written by Alagi Yorro Jallow, founder and former managing editor of The Independent, the Gambia’s only private newspaper before it was banned by the government in 2005. “The fact remains that the only commodity that is scarcer than meat in the Gambia is the truth,” he wrote, “It is incredible how Gambians constantly receive contrasting and contradictory information from official government sources, suggesting an unacceptable level of incompetence or, worse still, intentional misinformation and deceit for propaganda purposes.”

Open Data: The Open Knowledge International announces the final State of Government Open Data report for 2017. It  identifies “three critical obstacles preventing open data use: data is hard to find; not user-friendly; and not openly licensed.”

OGP: OGP is seeking to commission a series of synthesis papers on evidence of the impact of open government reforms. See details hereMost importantly, we need to understand ways to use the evidence more effectively and incentivize high level political leaders to champion open government.”

India: RTIonline.com creates a new website promoting its services, including testimonials.

Video: The Carter Center’s first animated video highlights the Global Access to Information Program’s efforts to empower women by helping them obtain potentially life-changing information.

India: Comparison of RTI data show that the Narendra Modi government has not been as good for right to information as its predecessor, according to an article about recent reports by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

Tunisia: A case study by Tristan Dreisback examines how Tunisia embraced open government.

Abstract:

In January 2011, mass demonstrations in Tunisia ousted a regime that had tolerated little popular participation, opening the door to a new era of transparency. The protesters demanded an end to the secrecy that had protected elite privilege. Five months later, the president issued a decree that increased citizen access to government data and formed a steering committee to guide changes in information practices, building on small projects already in development. Advocates in the legislature and the public service joined with civil society leaders to support a strong access-to-information policy, to change the culture of public administration, and to secure the necessary financial and technical resources to publish large quantities of data online in user-friendly formats. Several government agencies launched their own open-data websites. External pressure, coupled with growing interest from civil society and legislators, helped keep transparency reforms on the cabinet office agenda despite frequent changes in top leadership. In 2016, Tunisia adopted one of the world’s strongest laws regarding access to information. Although members of the public did not put all of the resources to use immediately, the country moved much closer to having the data needed to improve access to services, enhance government performance, and support the evidence-based deliberation on which a healthy democracy depended.

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