MEASURING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF ACCESS TO INFORMATION (ATI) LAWS IN SERBIA

Together, with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) , GFMD have conducted an assessment of the implementation of Access To Information (ATI) laws (SDG 16.10.2) in Serbia. The country has committed to submit a Voluntary National Review (VNR) during the High Level Political Forum in July 2019.

Held on the 7th of February 2019, the Serbian multi-stakeholder meeting was initiated by civil society organisations and experts in the media development sector in order to exchange their approaches and experiences regarding their use of the fundamental right of ATI.

Data had previously been collected by BIRN to support and to facilitate the discussions (based on the FOIAnet methodology). A finalized draft report was issued, with the following main outcomes:

  • The Serbian shadow report on SDG 16.10.2 highlights the fact that Serbia is taking steps over the past decade to shift from a culture of secrecy, that previously dominated the country, to a culture of openness. Serbia is third out of the 126 UN countries that have adopted ATI laws. Indeed, there is a strong legal framework in terms of ATI laws which have consequently generated important governmental Freedom of Information structures.
  • However, findings from the Serbian shadow report illustrated a deterioration in the implementation of ATI laws. This is mainly due to the state’s unwillingness to make information public to both the general public and journalists filing requests, but also because public bodies do not always follow the Commissioner’s statement when ATI requests are denied.
  • This research has shown that after 15 years since the law’s implementation, institutions analyzed are still hiding some information from their websites but are also reluctant to provide information through FOI requests. But, on the other side, ministries turned out to have had put in place most of the institutional measures to assist with implementation by appointing focal points, having ATI guidelines on their websites and answering requests within 15 working days.

Thanks to these findings, the following recommendations could be highlighted to improve the implementation of the ATI laws in the Serbian situation:

  • Improvement of the RTI law by strengthening powers of the Information Commissioner to rule on denials by the highest institutions of state, to enforce its decisions and initiate misdemeanour
  • Introducing higher fines for public bodies who refuse to disclose the information requested.
  • The Law on state administration and the Law on Free Access to Information on Public Importance should provide detailed information on what kind of information and services public institutions should make public on their websites.
  • The bylaw called “The Decree on detailed conditions for the creation and maintenance of the website of state bodies” should list all the information state institutions are obliged to have proactively disclosed.
  • Public institutions must be obliged by the law to have annual reports on FOI requests published on their websites.
  • Institutions must be obliged to furnish information on the costs of providing copies of the information requested.
  • The public’s right to information should be further promoted and widely encouraged in a bid to reach the culture of openness.