Right to Know and Communications Rights

Rights associated with communication, information access, and expression have been enshrined in
laws and conventions ranging from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to national freedom of
information laws. The field has grown as societies realize that these rights are fundamental to human
and social development.

No democracy can exist without the participation of a fully informed citizenry that is free to express
its views. The exercise of other basic rights depends on the right to know, and transparent and accountable
government cannot be achieved without it.

The nations of the Western Hemisphere have gone through periods in which these basic right were suppressed—during
the military dictatorships in the Southern Cone, in the U.S. Cold War and McCarthy era, and under Mexico’s
one-party rule, for example. Great strides have been made today. Many nations have developed national
legislation to guarantee access to information through laws that oblige governments to release information
and thus enable citizens to perform their role of watchdog and informed participants. These laws constitute
important bulwarks against corruption and illegal government activities.

In the past decades, citizen pressure has resulted in "right to know" laws that make governments
and private organizations, including businesses, more transparent. More and more countries have enacted
Freedom of Information Acts. Yet assuring compliance with the new laws and putting them within reach
of citizens remains a major challenge.

The "right to know" also depends on the right to inform. Although countries in the Americas
have emerged from the dark days of outright censorship and repression, we are concerned about new threats.
Violence against journalists has increased in places where international organized crime has advanced.
The concentration of the media and stricter intellectual property rules limit both the range and spread
of information.

As an independent source of analysis in the Americas, communications rights are central to the work
of the Americas Policy Program. We have published articles on recently disclosed documents on the dirty
wars, censorship, the persecution of investigative journalists, and the environmental right-to-know
movement. By creating national and international networks and informing the public of threats, journalists
can promote freedom of expression, protect each other, and assure that society receives the information
it needs.

The Americas Policy Program works with other organizations to publicize gains and model policies,
to pressure governments toward greater openness, and to warn of threats to the right to public information.



United States:

National Security Archive

OMB Watch Working Group on Community Right to Know

The Access Initiative


Federación Latinoamericana de Periodistas (FELAP)

Grupo Alavío

Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información Pública