The participants in World Press Freedom Day on Monday 3 May 2010 (see our earlier post), have adopted a “Brisbane Declaration” on freedom of information. The declaration draws attention to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration (which, in similar terms to Article 10) includes both freedom of expression and the right to “receive information”. It “reaffirms” that the right to information “is an integral part of the right to freedom of expression” and defines the right to information as “the right of everyone to access information held by public bodies at all levels“. The central provision of the declaration is a call on member states
“To enact legislation guaranteeing the right to information in accordance with the internationally recognized principle of maximum disclosure”
The declaration has been welcomed by freedom of expresssion NGOs such as Article 19 (we refer to its press release today).
The focus on freedom of information as an essential component of freedom of expression is a welcome and important development in freedom of expression jurisprudence. We will be dealing with this in a future post. It is, however, interesting to note that “freedom of information” is being used in a restricted sense – meaning the right to access government information. In the Council of Europe the term originally had a wider meaning. Thus, in 1970 the Consultative (Parliamentary) Assembly of the Council of Europe resolved that the right to freedom of expression involves a:
“corresponding duty for the public authorities to make available information on matters of public interest within reasonable limits and a duty for mass communication media to give complete and general information on public affairs” (Res 428 (1970), 21st Ordinary Session (Third Part), 22-30 Jan 1970, Texts Adopted).
Freedom of information in the sense of a duty on the media to give “complete and general information on public affairs” is not covered by the Brisbane declaration. More recently, this duty on the media has been seen as encompassing two areas: the “ethics of journalism” and the availability of a right to reply. Both of these have been the subject of recent consideration by the Council of Europe and the Court of Human Rights and will be dealt with in future posts.