28 September is the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). On this day we celebrate a basic human right: access to information. It is bound up with the right to information, an integral part of the right to freedom of expression and the corallary right to media freedom.
International Right to Know Day began on September 28, 2002, when freedom of information organizations from around the world came together in Sofia, Bulgaria and created the FOI Advocates Network, a global coalition working together to promote the right of access to information for all people and the benefits of open, transparent, and accountable governments. The members of the Network decided to commemorate this day as a way to share ideas, strategies, and success stories about the development of freedom of information laws and genuinely transparent governance in their own nations.
“Without access to information, members of the media are not able to seek and receive information on issues of importance to the public. Without it, governments cannot be held accountable for their actions, nor are they open to public scrutiny”, said OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović.
“Access to information plays an essential role in the social and political processes of our societies. In most OSCE countries the right to free access to information is enshrined in the law – but we need more. We need the political will to fully implement the law and ensure full transparency”, said Mijatović.
Freedom of Information (FOI) can be defined as the right to access information held by public bodies. It is an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as recognized by Resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly adopted in 1946, as well as by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
FOI has also been enshrined as a corollary of freedom of expression in other major international instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the American Convention on Human Rights (1969).
FOI legislation reflects the fundamental premise that all information held by governments and governmental institutions is in principle public and may only be withheld if there are legitimate reasons, such as typically privacy and security, for not disclosing it. Over the past 10 years, the right to information has been recognized by an increasing number of countries, including developing ones, through the adoption of a wave of FOI laws. In 1990, only 13 countries had adopted national FOI laws, whereas there are currently more than 90 such laws adopted across the world.
UNESCO’s mandate as set out in its 1945 Constitution specifically calls on the Organization to “promote the free flow of ideas by word and image”. This mission is reflected on UNESCO’s Medium Term Strategy Medium-Term Strategy for 2008-2013 (34 C/4), and particularly in its strategic programme objective of enhancing universal access to information and knowledge.
Freedom of information is also central in the framework of the World Summit of the Information Society, which has reaffirmed freedom of expression and universal access to information as cornerstones of inclusive knowledge societies.
Further, the relevance of FOI has also been highlighted in the Brisbane Declaration on Freedom of Information: The Right to Know (2010), the Maputo Declaration on Fostering Freedom of Expression, Access to Information ad Empowerment of People(2008) and the Dakar Declaration on Media and Good Governance (2005), all emerging from UNESCO’s annual celebrations of World Press Freedom Day.