16 March 2013
In the United States 16 March is recognised as Freedom of Information Day. It falls during Sunshine Week, when the media and public interest groups are encouraged to promote awareness of the Open Government movement. By coincidence or design, 16 March was the birthday of James Madison, the fourth United States president, long regarded as the father of the Constitution, and now reflecting Sunshine Week, the father of freedom of information. Once convinced by Jefferson of the need for amendments to the Constitution, Madison championed the Bill of Rights starting with the First Amendment guaranteeing the separation of church and state, and freedoms of speech, press, and assembly.
A report published earlier this week assessed the extent to which the Obama administration has delivered on the commitment to Open Government that the President made on taking office. That commitment appears to have run out of momentum. The aspiration to be the most transparent administration in history will require agencies to embrace openness, improve accessibility and reliability of published information during the second term, and to “dramatically transform” national security policies on secrecy.
There seems to be nothing unique in politicians promising government openness – until the media demands accountability for political compromises. In New South Wales the premier who was outspoken on the need for transparency until taking office two years ago, now defends a reluctance to deliver on his promise of a new era of openness.
And in New Zealand the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Law Commission for substantial changes in the Official Information Act will have disappointed those who seek a more compelling framework for open government.