New freedom of information law condemned
The new freedom of information law, offentlighedsloven, presented by the government to parliament today will not allow greater insight into the decision making process of ministers, Politiken newspaper reports.
The offentlighedslov outlines which government documents are available to the public through freedom of information requests. Information that affects the state’s security, economy and diplomatic relations are exempt from the law, along with details about private businesses in order to protect their trade secrets.
The new law is facing criticism, however, as it will also exclude documents made by ministers to draft and discuss ideas with both civil services and other government ministries.
The justice minister, Morten Bødskov (Socialdemokraterne), explained that the law was designed to protect ministers from being targeted in the media while they develop their ideas.
“Politicians need to have the opportunity to try out ideas and get feedback during the legislative process that we are constantly working on,” Bødskov told Politiken newspaper. “In general I don’t think that the public affects the legislative process. But both our proposal and the former government’s proposal are built upon recommendations made by the Freedom of Information Committee and strike a balance between more openness on the one hand, and introducing some limitations on the other.”
The Freedom of Information Committee was established in 2002 and published its results in 2009. The following year, the former Venstre-Konservative (V-K) government presented its version of a new law that included the clause with the exception for ministerial documents.
Opposition to the clause from Liberal Alliance (LA) and Dansk Folkeparti (DF) ultimately led the V-K government to drop the law and after the September 2011 election and change in government, the baton was passed on to the current centre-left coalition.
Last October, the government presented its version of the law with a slight rewording to the clause excluding ministerial documents from Freedom of Information requests.
Despite the rewording, LA, DF and Enhedslisten all remain opposed to the law, especially given the Justice Ministry’s recent announcement that it would not be debated in parliament before it is voted on.
“I think this process has been very telling about what will happen under the new legislation,” Pernille Skipper told Politiken. “It has been a very closed process. There was no invitation to broad political negotiations so that parties could decide whether to support the law. Instead, parties that have been critical in the past were simply not invited to negotiations in the first place. I think it’s embarrassing because this law is all about how we create openness about our legislative process, but the debate about the law has been completely closed down.”
The new offentlighedslov is expected to pass with support of V and K. According to Pia Adelsteen (DF) it’s hardly a surprise, given that government ministers traditionally only derive from these five parties.
“The offentlighedslov is what we use to keep tabs on those in power, and the law now contains a little under-the-table agreement between the ministerial parties,” Adelsteen told Politiken. “I think that says it all.”
Critics of the law argue that scandals, such as the ongoing ‘Taxgate’ scandal, would never have been uncovered if it weren’t for access to ministerial documents.
But the Justice Ministry argues that the new law makes many positive changes that increase access to information, particularly through digitalisation and online information requests.