Opposition to freedom of information act gathering momentum

Detractors argue that the new act will allow the government to mislead voters and parliament

The government’s plan to instal a new freedom of information act (offentlighedslov) is now beginning to face strong criticism from within.

Around 20 members of government coalition party Radikale (R) have already added their names to a petition against the act that has over 42,000 signatures. And now, Camilla Fabricius, Socialdemokraterne's (S) head on the Aarhus City Council, has also joined the ranks.

“I have decided to take a stand against the upcoming offentlighedslov in its current form. The halls of Christiansborg do not need more opaqueness,” Fabricius told Kristeligt-Dagblad newspaper. “I urge [Justice Minister] Morten Bødskov, who is a sensible and intelligent man, to rethink the proposal."

One of the most controversial aspects of the new act proposal is a section that would allow preliminary and advisory ministerial documents to be struck from public records.

Opposition party Venstre (V), another offentlighedslov supporter, is also experiencing dissent within its ranks.

“The consequences will be a less transparent political process in which scandal and untruths will be easier to keep under wraps,” Jakob Engel-Schmidt, a V board member, wrote in an op-ed for Politiken newspaper. “It doesn’t take much imagination to envision a government using the act to shape the public debate as it sees fit without having to answer to the public or the media.”

Opponents of the law argue that hindering public access will result in fewer instances of political mishandling being revealed, such as the recent case when Ekstra Bladet tabloid uncovered that the employment minister, Mette Frederiksen (S), had withheld unemployment benefit figures.

Award-winning journalist Jesper Tynell contended that the new act would compromise transparency in the political forum.

“It will become easier to lead the parliament astray, especially in terms of being allowed to cut or, in certain cases, contort factual information,” Tynell wrote in Politiken. “The act will strengthen the incumbent government while weakening the voters’ and parliament’s insight and influence.”

But the justice minister, Morten Bødskov (S), has argued that the new offentlighedslov would be a vast improvement to the current law.  Bødskov said that he finds it acceptable if ministers and other officials are given a confidential space in which to discuss policy.

“I believe that the act has the right balance. That means that we’ll expand the fundamental principle of transparency in the public sphere and at the same time take into account that there are situations that can lead to certain instances not being available to the public,” Bødskov said in a Justice Ministry press release.

The new offentlighedslov was initially proposed back in 2009 under the then Venstre-Konservative government in a move that drew criticism from S and Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF), opposition parties at the time.

Aside from a crumbling support base, the government must also contend with opposition parties Liberal Alliance (LA), Dansk Folkeparti (DF) and Enhedslisten (EL), who are all vehemently against the new proposal.

Jyllands-Posten newspaper recently asked 20 current and former ministers what a lack of a ‘confidential space’ meant to them, but received no response.

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