Freedom of Expression

Press Release R60/16

World Press Freedom Day

Office of the Special Rapporteur Urges the States to Promote and Guarantee Access to Public Information and Press Freedom

May 3, 2016

Washington, D.C. – The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in the World Press Freedom Day, urges the States of the hemisphere to continue passing laws that allow an effective access to public information and to promote its effective and efficient implementation, according to international standards.

In the last decades, a significant number of countries in the region have passed laws on access to public information or have approved reforms to its existing legal framework to defend this right. In this way, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, United States and Uruguay have some kind of law on access to public information. However, there are still challenges in the implementation of these laws and there are still a number of countries where the passing of these laws is pending.

Access to information is an autonomous right protected by article 13 of the American Convention, and it is essential for the strengthening, functioning and preservation of the democratic systems and the exercise of other human rights. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has held that the right to access to information "protects the right of the individual to receive such information and the positive obligation of the State to provide it, so that the individual may have access to such information or receive an answer that includes a justification when, for any reason permitted by the [American] Convention, the State is allowed to restrict access to the information in a specific case. The information should be provided without the need to prove direct interest or personal involvement in order to obtain it, except in cases in which a legitimate restriction is applied."

The importance of the right to access to public information for the strengthening of the democracy and the exercise of other rights was recognized in the United Nations 2030 Development Agenda, specifically with objective 16.10 which seeks to "ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements."

At the same time, journalism represents one of the most important forms of demonstration of freedom of expression and information. Press activities are essential for democracies, since journalists and media are the ones who keep a society informed of what is happening and its different interpretations, a necessary condition for a strong, informed and vigorous public debate. The States in the region should continue their efforts to prevent and protect journalists at risk, investigate threats and violent acts, and respect and guarantee the work done by independent press as an essential element for the other liberties.

In this World Press Freedom Day, the Office of the Special Rapporteur recalls the States the obligation to ensure that the media are able to keep society informed, including the creation of an environment in which a free, independent and diverse media can flourish. Furthermore, it urges the States to pass laws that allow an effective access to information and to execute additional policies that ensure its adequate implementation, according to international standards, that foster an effective and efficient implementation of these rules on access to information, and which strengthen the institutional structure of its supervision.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.