Friday, March 6, 2015

Clement Chen on Freedom of Information in China

"Freedom of Information in China?  The Paradox of Access to Information in a Closed Regime"
Clement Chen
in John Mair & Tom Felle (eds), FOI Ten Years On: Freedom Fighting or Lazy Journalism (Abramis Academic Publishing 2015)
Abstract: As a result of the Regulations on Open Government Information (ROGI), Chinese journalists as well as other citizens enjoy, for the first time in history, a statutory right to access government information. While the ROGI has led to increased disclosure of non-sensitive information, it has yet to secure disclosure of information with democratic implications, i.e. enhancing government accountability and promoting civic engagement, as shown by data concerning request handling and judicial review. Under the law, journalists do not have a more privileged right of access to information than any other citizen; in practice, their rights are actually far less, as frequently a ‘needs test’ is applied by government agencies (news gathering has not been recognised as a valid need) in addition to other exemptions, in an effort to stymie information release, especially where such requests relate to accountability of public money; potential maladministration; or corruption. Journalists and other non-personal requests have an extremely limited right of appeal, as courts have been slow to overturn non-disclosure decisions, or even accept cases. Because of this combination of a weak legislative framework and a largely impotent judicial protection, watchdogs such as activists, NGOs and journalists find it increasingly difficult to use the ROGI to monitor and check on the workings of government, and its officials.

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