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IFJ welcomes ombudsman's decision against European Commission for failure to record all documents in public register

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 29 January 2009 IFJ media release:

Ombudsman Decision Boosts Transparency in European Union, Says IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today welcomed the decision of the European Ombudsman against the European Commission for its failure to record on its public register all documents.

"This decision gives a tremendous boost to the campaign for access to information and more openness," Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary said. "Public bodies cannot properly be held to account when access to information is arbitrarily restricted."

The European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, ruled that the failure of the European Commission to establish a comprehensive register for all the documents it produces and receives amounts to maladministration.

The ruling follows the complaint lodged by Statewatch, a British NGO, in 2006 with the Ombudsman about the European Commission's failure to register all documents, in line with the Union's Code on access to documents which was adopted following the Amsterdam and Maastricht Treaties.

Under the Code, a document was defined as "any written text, whatever the medium". The European Commission had later sought to restrict the types of documents it places on its public register by recording only formally transmitted documents by - or to - an institution of the Commission.

The Statewatch complaint was also based on the European Union's regulation on access to EU documents which came into force in 2001 and provided that public registers should be operational from 2002.

The Commission had given assurances that all documents would be placed in the public domain once its internal registration of documents is completed. The Union's Ombudsman rejected this claim and called for the implementation of relevant European legal instruments in a recommendation which has been endorsed by the European Parliament. "Access to information is critical for journalists and the public they seek to inform," added White. "We expect speedy implementation of the Ombudsman's recommendation."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide.

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