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New Access to Information Law comes into effect

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 16 May 2012 - Brasília, Brazil: The new Brazilian Access to Information Law, approved by the Senate and ratified by President Dilma Roussef in November 2011, comes into force today (16 May 2012). It marks a key step towards greater transparency and involvement whilst providing a stronger framework to embrace access to information.

The law was the result of at least eight years of advocacy by leading journalists, NGOs and some members of Congress and Government. Brazil has been trying to gain recognition as a promoter of transparency and open governments, while being one of the co-founders of the Open Government Partnership - OGP. The approval of the Brazilian law, together with the OGP, could see similar reforms introduced in neighbouring countries.

The first bill was proposed by Deputado Reginaldo Lopes in 2003 and later improved by a bill drafted by the Federal Executive and presented to the Lower House in 2009. After hearings and consultations with civil society, lawmakers made positive modifications to the bill before sending it to the Senate. It was then approved with minor changes despite a campaign by some Senators to block the text.

The law regulates the right of access to public information already guaranteed by the Constitution since 1988. It provides good procedures for processing information requests and covers obligations concerning proactive disclosure and the duty to provide data in an open and non-proprietary format. This piece of legislation also provides sanctions for those who deny access to information not protected by law and outlines exceptions that generally comply with international standards of freedom of information.

The Law, however, is just the first step and its proper implementation is now the challenge. Difficulties are expected due to the need for proper financial and human resources, the lack of a dedicated and specialised promotional body and a system of appeals that is both confusing and lacking in independence.

"The key now is to spread the word about the new law and its potential, demonstrating how instrumental the right of access to information is to human rights", said Paula Martins, ARTICLE 19's Director for South America.

"This new Access to Information Law needs to go beyond words and become common practice amongst multiple stakeholders. It requires openness from civil servants and willingness to engage by civil society. It is a task for all."

Many predict cultural challenges will be difficult to overcome. Not only is there a culture of secrecy within the public administration, but a lack of widespread knowledge and practice in the exercise of freedom of information among individuals, journalists and civil society organisations, remains. Despite such challenges, the new law has the potential to bring about welcomed cultural changes and many have already mobilised to ensure it. ARTICLE 19 celebrates this as a mark in the consolidation of democracy in Brazil.

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