Why do governments pass FOI laws?
in The politics of freedom of information
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The chapter maps out the competing dynamics of transparency reform, a policy with symbolic power that traps governments while becoming a site of contestation. In many countries FOI ‘survives’ because of its symbolism and attempted retrenchment is tempered by a combination of internal support and Parliamentary and media pressure. This double pressure of symbolism and support makes the policy difficult to drop, even for powerful leaders like Tony Blair or Lyndon Johnson. Yet the lack of public interest means it is symbolic but fragile and is fought over at the level of detail and, frequently, diluted.

The chapter ends by looking at the future of transparency policy and whether evolving new Open Data policies will strengthens FOI or simply relocates the transparency struggle. Technological changes have had a profound impact on openness (Curtin and Meijer 2006). However, the new Open Data reforms face similar obstacles and display similar patterns to that of FOI: small groups of committed supporters, bureaucratic division and lack of clarity about detail and aims underneath a ‘symbolic’ potential (Peled 2011: Yu and Harlan 2012: Worthy 2013). New ‘Open Data’ reforms look set to continue the same difficulties rather than solve them.

The politics of freedom of information

How and why governments pass laws that threaten their power


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