5 October In Kyiv Forum IV for advocates of the right to information started its work and gathered members of parliament, civil society activists, journalists and government officials to discuss the state of access to information in Ukraine and further steps towards implementation of the law On Access to Public Information.
The first working day of Forum began with the plenary discussion on achievements and challenges of implementation of the law of Ukraine On Access to Public Information. In the discussion session there participated the director of Media Law Institute and the co-author of the Law Taras Shevchenko; the ambassador of Ukraine in Canada and the member of parliament of V, VI and VII convocation, and one of the main lobbyist in the parliament of the law On Access to Public Information Andriy Shevchenko; the member of the parliament of Ukraine, and at the time of the law adoption the head of the civil organisation CentreUA Svitlana Zalishchuk; and also the journalist – investigator of the program Slidstvo.Info on Hromadske TV Drytro Hnap.
The Law On Access to Public Information passed by Verkhovna Rada in 2011 was one of the few democratic laws of the Yanukovych times. According to one of the authors of the law Andriy Shevchenko, the law On Access to Public Information has accomplished a crucial task of breaking the wall between the authority and people. Svitlana Zalishchuk as the active advocate of this law assessed how the law was adopted: “We had four main “ingredients”: high-quality expertise, public support, political will, especially of Andriy Shevchenko, who became the leader of this process, and also the request of journalists and public to use the instrument of access to information. We were lacking only the fifth element – the arbitrator, empowering the role of the institute of Ombudsman.” Later already from the position of a legislator, Svitlana Zalishchuk announced the further steps of the parliament towards access to information. Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine joined the international initiative “Open Parliament” in the context of the transparency of finances and transformation of data in a format of “open data.”
From the point of view of a journalist, Dmytro Hnap stated that the law on access significantly simplified the work of journalists, particularly concerning questions of quick response to information queries. Moreover, Dmytro drew the attention of the participants of the Forum to the problematic aspects of the implementation of the law. “During four years the officialdom has learnt to adjust, look for cracks, change, mutate like a virus only not to provide information. The bureaucrats search for any opportunity to hide information even if the law obliges them to provide it.”
“The main objective of writing the law On Access to Public Information” and its adoption regardless of the resistance of the government of that time, we accomplished. Then, Media Law Institute together with its partners spent a lot of energy on implementing the Law, particularly through strategic court cases. The process of implementation is still ongoing. Moreover, significant powers to monitor the implementation of the Law On Access to Information was assigned to Ombudsman. To enhance this trend, we form the Network of Activists who on the spot and in accordance with the accurate methodology is going to monitor the implementation of the law,” – noted Taras Shevchenko during the plenary discussion.
The authority of independent supervisory body and the observance of the right to information for the next discussion of the Forum was discussed by the representative of Ombudsman Iryna Kushnir, the independent expert Dmytro Kotliar, and the expert on protection of the rights of whistleblowers Oksana Nesterenko. In addition, during the first day of the Forum for defenders of the right of access to information, the participants together with the guests have discussed successful civil initiatives in the matter of access to public information, and strategic court cases in the matter of access.
Among the guests of the Forum, there were the senior analytic of the department of analysis of anticorruption policy Transparency International Ukraine Oleksandr Kalitenko; the Head of Centre of Political Studios and Analytics Viktor Taran; the editor of “Access to Truth” of NGO “CentreUA” Lesia Hanzha; the lawyer of Media Law Institute, the project manager of “Lab of Active Citizens” Olesia Kholopik; the development director of Media Law Institute Tetiana Semileko; the Head “Mukachevo Human Rights Center” Oleh Grygoryev; the lawyer of Media Law Institute/ CHESNO Halyna Chyzhyk; the lawyer of Media Law Institute Vita Volodovska.
The event took place within the framework of the project “Ensuring Court Protection of Right to Information in support of Fund and Network of Defenders of the Right to Access Information”. The project is carried out by civil organisation Media Law Institute with support of the project “Popularisation of Human Rights and Democracy and Empowering Media and Civil Society in Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Belarus” of the international organisation “International Media Support (IMS)” with support of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway and Sweden through Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).