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The Freedom of Information Index: measuring the gap between the promise and practice of information legislation

Lidberg, J., Phillips, G.ORCID: 0000-0002-3491-2441 and Tanner, S. (2003) The Freedom of Information Index: measuring the gap between the promise and practice of information legislation. Freedom of Information Review, 108 . pp. 88-104.

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‘I have nothing to say on the topic since we don't use Foi as a journalistic tool, besides, as far as I am concerned Foi is dead.'

'Not to have Foi, would be like turning off the water.'

Two news and current affairs editors with public broadcasters in two different countries - two diametrically different views on how Freedom of Information (Foi) works in practice. The editors' opinions were part of a study comparing how journalists in Western Australia and Sweden utilised Foi legislation as a journalistic tool to gather information independently. The study highlighted the immense differences in practice between two Foi legislations that on the surface share the same aims and goals: to provide individuals with access to government-held personal records to correct wrong or misleading information, to remove unnecessary secrecy to improve quality of decision making, to make government functions clearer, and, perhaps most importantly, to 'develop political democracy through greater opportunities for public participation in the decision making, Grand goals - in theory. So good, in fact, that currently more than 50 countries around the world have passed Foi legislation. It could be argued that Foi legislation has become a hallmark of liberal democracy - no Foi, no 'proper' democracy. However, the Lidberg study of the Foi regimes in Sweden and Western Australia strongly indicated that the gap between what the Foi laws promise and what they deliver in practice is rather big and there are substantial differences between countries.

This article outlines a current project at Murdoch University that aims to create the first International Comparative Freedom of Information Index that will allocate each country of study a rank indicating how its Foi regime works in practice. The article describes the theoretical foundations on which the project rests, provides an overview of the methodology and research design, and analyses a number of existing socio-economic indexes that are relevant to the creation of the Foi Index.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Media, Communication and Culture
Publisher: Legal Service Bulletin Co-operative
Copyright: © LSB Co-operative Ltd 2003
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