An FOIA programme on BBC World Service
If knowledge is power, then the right to know is a crucial part of the balance between citizen and state. More and more countries are introducing freedom of information laws, which give citizens the right to see government-held information.
Over 70 states already have an FOI law of some kind. In another 50 or so, moves have begun to get one passed.
Freedom of information is well on the way to being seen as an essential prerequisite for a modern democracy. But there’s almost always a backlash from politicians and officials. And throughout the world ‘right to know’ laws have become a subject of controversy and political conflict.
The first programme of two looks at the rapid spread of freedom of information and asks whether the many countries now introducing FOI laws are are really acting more in theory than in practice.
Since 1766, Sweden has had Freedom of information enshrined in law. All information held by government can be requested and viewed by any Swedish citizen.
Elsewhere in the world it has taken a little longer to achieve such levels of transparency. Even though Freedom of Information exists now in the UK, it can be anything but straightforward to get hold of the information you are after.
Laura Trevelyan meets someone who tried to use the FOI laws to find out what British Members of Parliament make financial claims for. The request was at first rejected. Only after an appeals process and later a decision made in the High Court was the information released – and then only a little at a time.
But what does having such information actually acheive? And is FOI sometimes more symbolic than practical in impact? And does it really help to tackle corruption and scandals in government?