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Access to government information law passed, IAPA urges other countries to follow suit

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 12 August 2008 IAPA press release:

SIP Welcomes Approval of Access Law in Chile

At the same time the Organization restated its request to lawmakers in Brazil and Guatemala to unlock negotiations and pass laws on official transparency and urged the Argentine and Paraguayan congresses to resume discussions.

Miami (August 12, 2008) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) welcomed the approval of the Public Information Access Act in Chile, hailing the law as "a major and decisive step forward to ensure and strengthen the full democratic rights of its citizens."

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet yesterday passed the law, officially called the Public Information Access Act (Ley sobre Transparencia de la Función Pública y Acceso a la Información de los Órganos de la Administración del Estado), requiring all state levels to deliver the information requested by citizens within 20 days.

IAPA President Earl Maucker welcomed the measure, saying: "This brings Chile into the group of nations that understands the democratic value of opening up and giving the general population access to the actions, operations and provisions of the State administration."

Maucker, who is also the vice-president and editor of South Florida's Sun-Sentinel newspaper, considered that the act passed "is a major and decisive step to ensure and strengthen the full democratic rights of its citizens."

The act, which goes into effect in April 2009, creates the Transparency Council, chosen by the President with the agreement of the Senate. The Council will be responsible for compliance and will be the body to which citizens can appeal in the event access is denied. The new law regulates Section 8 of the Constitution and is binding on all central, regional or community official bodies.

Gonzalo Marroquín, the president of the IAPA's Freedom of Press and Information Committee, also welcomed the approval of the act in Chile, and repeated the request he made last July to Guatemala's President Alvaro Colom for prompt approval by the Guatemalan Congress of the Public Information Access Act initiative.

Marroquín, who is the director of Guatemala's Prensa Libre newspaper, also highlighted the need by American countries - particularly Canada, Chile, Ecuador, the USA, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and the Dominican Republic - "to implement information campaigns aimed at teaching citizens that there is a law and how to use it."

IAPA authorities publicly appealed to the Argentinean and Paraguayan authorities to resume discussions on access to public information. Discussions of bills were held by both congresses with support from civil institutions but were unsuccessful after arduous legislative debates.

IAPA has been putting increased pressure on these laws since 1994, where the principle of citizens' sovereignty was included in Section 3 of the Declaration of Chapultepec, stating, "Authorities should be legally bound to make available to citizens, on a reasonable and timely basis, the information generated by the public sector. No journalist should be forced to disclose his or her information sources."

For further information on previous alerts regarding access to government information in Chile, see:
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/67395
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/15558

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