Participants at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw highlighted measures to promote free access to information held by governments, as well as the importance of providing legal protection to individuals who expose wrongdoing within organizations – so-called whistleblowers.
At an event on 25 September 2012 organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in co-operation with the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, participants from governments, the international community and civil society noted that national legislation should provide for broad access to information of public interest held by public bodies.
“Such legislation should be in line with international standards and commitments,” said Thomas Vennen, the Head of ODIHR’s Democratization Department. “The legislation should, among other things, reflect the principle of maximum disclosure, establishing the presumption that all government information of public interest should be subject to disclosure, which can only be overcome in very limited circumstances.”
Helen Darbishire of the organization Access Info Europe said that providing the public with access to information held by public administrations is key to ensuring democracy. “Limits to access to information should follow a proper balancing of interests and should not be replaced by a general ‘over-classification’ of documents,” she added.
Participants also emphasized the positive role of whistleblowers in bringing to light cases of corruption and wrongdoing in public administrations.
“Whistleblowers are often the only source for the detection of misuse of public funds or other abuses of state powers. A lack of proper legal protection often prevents potential whistleblowers from revealing information about serious malpractices and abuse,” said Roland Bless, the Principal Adviser to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. “Providing legal protection to whistleblowers and supporting investigative journalism are two sides of the same coin.”