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Parliament says yes to access to info law

Ukraine is the latest European country to adopt an access to information law, report the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), ARTICLE 19 and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

The Ukrainian parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of the law on 13 January, following persistent campaigning by IMI, ARTICLE 19 and partners over the past few years.

According to IMI, for the first time municipal bodies are obliged to answer access to info requests, including on their spending habits.

Authorities must now reply to requests for information in five days, as opposed to the norm of 30 days, says IMI.

The new law also requires public bodies to promote open government and publish certain types of information without individual requests, says ARTICLE 19. It "contains several progressive provisions supported by ARTICLE 19, including a broad definition of public information, and a legal responsibility of holders of information who fail to publish," said ARTICLE 19.

Non-disclosure is only limited to situations in which revealing the information does more harm than good to the public, including information concerning a serious threat to a person's health and safety or to the environment, says ARTICLE 19.

The law will go into effect after being signed by President Viktor Yanukovych, who has already expressed his intention to give assent.

IMI says the new law is an example of a "successful campaign run by civil society organisations," particularly since parliament was initially critical of the draft law, even presenting its own version. "But we talked them round to cooperating, and to improving not only the legal instruments on access to information but also the law on information," said IMI.

The law on information was revised to better protect journalists and prohibit censorship.

"The new law should increase government transparency and improve participatory democracy in Ukraine. My office will closely monitor its implementation, offer advice and share 'best practices' from other OSCE states," said the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic.

Mijatovic is also calling for the adoption of a law on public broadcasting, noting that Ukraine's authorities had not done so despite assurances that a law would be in place by the end of 2010.

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