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Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Mexico, El Salvador, Antigua ranked higher in right to information laws than U.S. and Canada



Mexico, El Salvador and Antigua are ranked higher than Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia on a global ranking of right to information laws, according to the annual ratings prepared by Access Info Europe (AIE) and Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD).

The list includes 95 countries that have adopted information laws. The rankings rate each country's law on seven criteria: scope, requesting procedures, exceptions and refusals, appeals, right of access, sanctions and protections and promotion. The CLD and AIE note that the rankings reflect the strength of the laws, not actual compliance.

The top country on this year’s list is Serbia, with Slovenia, India, Liberia, El Salvador, Mexico, Antigua, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Ethiopia trailing closely behind. The bottom 10 includes Austria, Liechtenstein, Tajikistan, Germany, Jordan, Belgium, Italy, Taiwan, Uzbekistan and the Dominican Republic, ranked from the lowest.

The rankings only include countries that currently have information laws in place. 

Roughly two-thirds of the countries in Latin America have adopted RTI laws. Even though the report praised Latin American and Caribbean countries for their general efforts in promoting and guaranteeing right-to-information measures, it lamented they have usually fallen short in responding to appeals since few of them have independent oversight bodies.

Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have been making steps towards improving right to information and transparency in recent years. For example, Pulitzer Prize-winning Mexican journalist Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas in April that her research on the network of bribery and corruption that was a key part of Wal-Mart de México’s expansion strategy was possible because of Mexico’s transparency laws. Her investigation involved 800 freedom of information requests from municipal, state, and federal offices in Mexico, and a total of 200 interviews.

According to the report, many long-established democracies that have had information laws in place for years are falling in the ratings, while countries with no prior history of such laws have been implementing implement legislation that are typically stronger than older laws currently in place in Europe and North America. For instance, developed countries like Canada have slipped in the rankings while many Latin American and Caribbean countries have steadily moved up.

Canada’s access to information law was passed in 1983, but this law, including those of many other established democracies, has fallen behind as newer laws in other countries have built on the foundation that these first laws implemented.

“Laws that were drafted more recently have had the advantages of learning from the mistakes or failures of laws that were written earlier and of being able to reference clear international standards in this area,” the report said. “Furthermore, the years since 1995 have seen the emergence of increasingly powerful both civil society networks and international community advocacy in favor of strong RTI laws, which have facilitated the sharing of information about better practice and international standards, and also created pressure for positive law reform.”

The CLD reported in a report analyzing trends on Sept. 28, that new and emerging democracies are ranked the highest on the list, while those democracies that have been around for years, such as the United States and Australia, are located much lower on the list.  

“A major finding of the report is that as international standards have developed laws have got stronger,” reported the CLD and AIE. “At the same time, there is still a lot of room for improvement, with only 23 countries scoring more than 100 points.”

The map below shows the countries that were included in the report, the countries that have already implemented right to information laws. The spectra ranges from red, to orange, to dark yellow, to light yellow, to green-yellow, to light-green, to green, and then dark green. The highest scoring countries are green and dark green, and the lowest are highlighted red and orange. 



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