Information becomes more accessible, the Law will be amended by the end of the year

After it has prepared the amendments to the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services, the government made a decision that gives the media free access to information by the Real Estate Cadastre and the Central Registry, and it will amend the Law on Free Access to Public Information by the end of this year

 

Author: Teofil Blazhevski

 

The Law on Free Access to Public Information, as one of the media-related laws, still hasn’t been put in government’s agenda, but it will be by the end of 2017.

Truthmeter was able to conclude this after it has been provided with government’s spokesperson’s answers and Minister Robert Popovski’s additional clarification.

Truthmeter’s has directly asked government’s spokesperson Mile Boshnjakovski why the exhaustively listed reform activities in the media section of the Plan 3-6-9 do not cover amendments to the Law on Access to Public Information, and has received the following answer:

Transparency, as well as free and accountable media, is one of the key priorities of the new government of the RM. Activities covered by the Plan 3-6-9 are precise and are being implemented in accordance with the envisioned dynamics.

As regards the amendment to the media laws, invitations to media and media associations for submitting proposals and comments on the Law on AAMS have been sent. We have received around ten proposals up to and including July 2017

With this answer, Truthmeter got the confirmation that the government will remain on the course of transparency and commitment to the media reforms, and has solicited additional clarification by the Minister Robert Popovski.

Popovski confirmed that he’s aware that the Law on Free Access to Public Information is consisted in the Urgent Reform Priorities, as well as that this law is a priority demand of journalistic associations.

Popovski’s clarification was that the law will be addressed in the near future, due to the Parliament’s amount of work and due to the fact that it will be dissolved during the local elections campaign.

Amendments to the Law on Free Access to Public Information have been left for the second three months from the Plan 3-6-9, and they will be put in Parliament’s agenda by the end of this year – said Popovski.

 

AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW SHOULD BE PRIORITIZED

According to the mutual conclusion of experts, including media and expert or nongovernmental organizations operating in the media sphere, this law must find its place in the government’s priority list, at least during the first six months in office.

Passed nearly 10 years ago, this law hinders the media to perform their basic role – clear, precise and opportune reporting on the work of institutions and other societal issues of vital importance to citizens.

In fact, that’s been laid down in the Request for systemic media reforms, signed and published at the beginning of July by the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM), Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM), Council of Media Ethics of Macedonia (CMEM), Institute of Communication Studies (ICS) and the Macedonian Institute of Media (MIM).

Regarding the Priority issues that have to be solved in the first phase, the five organizations unambiguously have laid down the Law on Access to Public Information:

The government, line ministries, Parliament, courts and all other institutions ought to provide swift, fair and equal access to public information for all media…

The possibility for amending the Law on Access to Public Information ought to be reviewed in order to (1) establish shorter deadline for access which would enable the journalists to obtain the required information and documents faster (7 to 10 working days, if possible), and (2) fully minimize the grounds for rejecting requests for free access to public information i.e. the institutions should not be allowed to voluntary interpretation of the grounds for rejecting, which gives them space to conceal information and hamper the right of access;

However, these requests are not expressed solely by the domestic experts, they are also contained in the Urgent Reform Priorities established by the European Union in 2015, which are constantly said that they will be implemented. Urgent Reform Priorities’ media and freedom of expression section requests the following reform:

C. Access to Information

– Address the main obstacles which journalists face in obtaining public information (e.g. the failure of relevant bodies to respond at all to many requests for information, the unjustified over-use of the “classified” category for documents not of that nature).

 

REQUIRED AMENDMENTS HAVE BEEN DETECTED

Amendments to the Law are more than indispensable. The items for amending have been detected by multiple analyses and expert discussions on this Law.

This topic was recently covered by Truthmeter as well. The analysis produced several items that have to be amended to this small, but rather obsolete law, because it’s been a decade since it was passed and no substantial amendments to it haven’t been made so far. Substantial amendments have to be made to the deadlines for response, competences of the Commission for Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information and increase of forfeits in the penal section, if the right is not respected.

This is an important law and the indispensable amendments to it are not large, according to the experts, therefore the expectations that the amendments will be implemented swiftly and that this law will be prioritized by the government when it comes to the media reforms are large. Plus, amendments to this law do not require majority of two-thirds in the Parliament.

In the meantime, on its 26th session held at the beginning of September (5 September 2017), the government made a decision on further transparency and encouragement of investigative journalism by allowing full and free access to information by the Central Registry and the Real Estate Cadastre. Government’s decision reads:

The right of media and journalists to report and investigate freely and unimpededly was supported by the government with yet another measure that gives the media workers the right of free use of services by the Central Registry and the Real Estate Cadastre. With this measure, the government met the demands of journalists and journalistic associations and provided free access to sources of information which are of particular importance to investigative journalism.

This measure has been demanded by the media and expert organizations, which also have saluted the government’s decision to pass it. This should also be an incentive for the government to pass the amendments to the Law on Free Access to Public Information as soon as possible.

 


This article was created within the framework of the Project to increase the accountability of the politicians and political parties Truthmeter implemented by Metamorphosis. The article is made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for Democracy(NED) and The Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD), a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an initiative that supports democracy, good governance, and Euroatlantic integration in Southeastern Europe. The content is the responsibility of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, National Endowment for Democracy, the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, or its partners.

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