Freedom of Information: A Comparative Legal Survey

By Youm, Kyu Ho | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Freedom of Information: A Comparative Legal Survey


Youm, Kyu Ho, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Freedom of Information: A Comparative Legal Survey. Toby Mendel. New Delhi, India: UNESCO, Regional Bureau for Communication and Information, 2003, 134 pp. (free) pbk. (Available online at )

Since the post-September 11 terrorist attacks, freedom of information has taken on a growing sense of urgency. Toby Mendel, law program director of ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression, notes: "There is a massive global trend towards legal recognition of this right [to access government information] as countries around the world that aspire to democracy either have adopted, or are in the process of preparing, freedom of information laws."

His book, Freedom of Information: A Comparative Legal Survey, showcases how freedom of expression is more than freedom from the government in a growing number of established and emerging democracies. One of the foundations making freedom of expression more practical is recognition of a right to access government records, for no participatory democracy is possible without a well-informed citizenry relating to government affairs.

Over the years, a number of books, monographs, and scholarly journal articles have been published about freedom of information as a right. Nonetheless, few of them have examined the subject from an international and comparative perspective. Among the rare exceptions are Sandra Couver et al.'s secrecy and Liberty: National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information; Venkat Iyer's Freedom of Information: An Asian Survey; and Norman S. Marsh's Public Access to Government-held Information: A Comparative Symposium.

What makes Mendel's Freedom of Information distinctive is the book's informative overview of the international and national framework of the FOI right as a human right. Also unique about the book is its discussion of ARTICLE 19's principles, which serve as a benchmark for FOI legislation.

Most valuable to those who need a comparative survey of various FOI laws is the book's seventy-five-page "Country Profiles" chapter. It is the author's survey of ten countries: Bulgaria, India, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Some readers, the reviewer included, most likely will wonder why these particular countries, not others, were selected. Mendel explains: "The choice of countries was based on a number of factors including geographic distribution, progressive and/or longstanding legislation and the familiarity of the author with the country/legislation."

In each of his country-by-country analyses, Mendel first offers a brief introduction on the FOI statute. He then discusses the right of informational access, the government's duty to publish information, the exceptions to access to public information, the appeals from access denials, and the government's promotion of access to public records. …

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