I defended my dissertation in April, 2010. The dissertation is the culmination of a Master's Degree in Latin American Studies (2003) and doctoral studies that included close to three years of field research in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay. The dissertation will soon be released as a book by Cambridge University Press
Worldwide, the remarkable diffusion of transparency and access to information laws poses a monumental challenge to the state’s most enduringly undemocratic feature— excessive secrecy. Will recently established laws lead to an effective surrender of secrecy? Relatively little has been written about how strong access to public information laws emerge. The dissertation addresses this theoretical and empirical gap by articulating a theory on the political determinants of strong access to information laws, and drawing on Latin America as its test case.
The dissertation combines two components, case studies and a comparative cross-national study. First, two extreme outcomes are examined in detail: a failed comprehensive freedom of information reform in Argentina (1999-2005), which resulted in a limited presidential decree (2003), and the adoption of a seminal transparency and access to information law in Mexico (2002). Second, leveraging the inferences provided by these two cases, the dissertation goes on to evaluate transparency and access to public information laws and adoption processes across Latin America. An original evaluation is used to score the legal strength of laws, and then political factors are examined in order to account for variations in the legal strength of transparency and access to information laws. Special attention is placed on the experiences of Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, and Uruguay.
The evaluation results show considerable variance in the strength of transparency and access to public information laws across the region: the average score is “moderately strong,” while the median and mode scores are “moderately weak.” Evidence shows that while citizens, non-governmental organizations and external pressure helped drive reform, they cannot explain observed variation in the legal strength of transparency and access to public information laws.
Rather, findings suggest that such laws emerge more robust in countries where 1) presidents lack control over the legislature and 2) news media coverage of transparency and access to information laws is strong. Conversely, where news media coverage is weaker and presidents possess strong negative legislative agenda setting powers (the means of denying a vote on a law through partisan majorities or constitutional privileges), transparency and access to public information laws tend to be weaker. The electoral timing of these laws is also associated with the strength of leaders. Weaker presidents tend to enact stronger transparency and freedom of information laws earlier-on within the electoral cycle (within the first half of a president’s term of office). By contrast, stronger presidents enact weaker laws within the last third of their terms of office.
These findings suggest that legislative conditions and news media pressure significantly influence the strength and timing of transparency and freedom of information laws. They also suggest that press advocacy for access to information tends to be greater in countries where presidents are weaker and news media ownership concentration is low. Overall, the dissertation contributes theory and evidence to a growing literature on the determinants of robust good governance and transparency reform. It also specifies the determinants of media activism for transparency and freedom of information laws, and the contingent role the media plays as an advocate of democracy-enhancing reform.
PDFs Available (they may take a while to download so patience is required)
Full Dissertation (3MB)
Chapter 1: Surrendering Secrecy (Introduction)
Chapter 2: Surrendering Secrecy in Mexico
Chapter 3: Delay and Resistance in Argentina
Chapter 4: Explaining the Surrender of Secrecy Across Latin America
“One of the very first, if not the first, large scale comparative projects examining the origins of access to information legislation […] Greg has done an excellent job of finding the political and societal variables that can explain which countries get true access to information and which ones get either nothing or a shame statute […] his project is theoretically interesting, builds on absolutely impressive fieldwork and deep knowledge of his cases, and is poised to make a significant contribution to the comparative politics of Latin America.”
“…A seminal contribution to our understanding of the determinants of strong freedom of information laws. The topic he addresses is important, his argument is original and the evidence he presents is compelling […] Empirically, this is one of the most impressive—if not the most impressive—dissertations I have read at the University of Texas at Austin..."
“…an important addition to the scholarship in an area that will see a lot of growth in the coming years, as researchers conduct new critical examinations of issues such as government transparency and freedom of information. It was very ambitious of Greg to propose such a comprehensive analysis of several Latin American countries, and he carried it through with great success. I believe he will make strong contributions to the teaching and research in his field and the institutions with which he is affiliated.”
"Under what conditions do access-to-information laws make a real difference and effectively guarantee transparency? Greg Michener's dissertation weaves together interesting arguments from political science to answer this novel question in a convincing fashion. The tremendous breadth and depth of field research that inform this thesis are truly impressive."
Hosted by the non-profit National Security Archive at the George Washington University in Washington, freedomdominfo.org is one of the leading authorities on questions regarding freedom of information, transparency, human rights, and civil liberties. The site provides a wealth of information, including country studies, feature articles, and links.
Based in London England and with representation around the world (including an Article IXX here in Brazil), Article IXX is the leading legal authority on questions regarding human rights and civil liberties, including the right to public information and media freedoms.
Open Society Institute's (OSI) Justice Initiative
The institute started by George Soros works concertedly on civic, human, and media rights through the Justice Initiative. The OSI operates internationally and regionally, and in Latin America it has undertaken seminal work on issues associated with news media independence from government (referenced extensively in my dissertation). Through Right2info.org, the OS Justice Initiative also hosts one of the best resources for information on legal standards and the right to access public information at the national and international levels.
The Carter Center
Based at Emory University in Atlanta, the Carter Center identified access to public information as one of its leading concerns as early as 1999. Since then, it has worked to advance the right around the world and throughout Latin America, where it has projects in Bolivia and Nicaragua, among other countries.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
The UNDP has emerged as one of the most important supporters of access to public information over the last few years. The UNDP site provides significant resources, including a searchable database of over 400 UNDP-supported organizations promoting the right around the world.
Defending the right to privacy, Privacy International is the oldest organization of its kind and has expanded its activities to encompass a vast array of advocacy work, including the right to access public information, freedom of speech, and investigating corporate data-retention.
National Freedom of Information Coalition
The NFOIC is based at the University of Missouri, where George Penn Kennedy wrote his seminal dissertation on the emergence of the U.S. FOIA, Advocates of Openness: The Freedom of Information Movement. The Center promotes the right to access public information at all levels of U.S. government, and its knowledgebase serves as a resource for FOI practitioners and advocates the world over.
Dedicated to advancing freedom of information in Europe and globally, Access Info is undertaking a groundbreaking "Six-Question" evaluation of right to public information laws across the world. Access Info provides resources for FOI researchers and practicioners, including innovative "Transparency Toolkits" to help citizens monitor public expenditure.
Center for Law and Democracy
Based in Halifax, Canada, the Center for Law and Democracy was recently started by Dr. Toby Mendel, one of the world's foremost experts on right to information legislation. Doctor Mendel has written two important surveys of access to public information laws, one that is a global, the other focusing on legislation in Latin America.
The Global Transparency Initiative (GTI)
Dedicated to promoting openness in international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the GTI provides a host of links to other national and international organizations that engage in similar watchdog activities.
The Open Budget Initiative
How well do governments provide their citizens with budgetary information and opportunities to participate in budgetary decisions? Using quantative measures such as indexes and surveys, the Open Budget Initiatve helps answer such questions by "following the money" in more than 85 countries.
One of the pioneers in the struggle against corruption, Transparency International continues to work toward greater openness in government both internationally and through its national affiliates.
World Bank's Access to Information Program
The World Bank provides cutting-edge policy papers and research on relevant issues associated with transparency and access to public information.
The Knight Foundation
Dedicated to journalistic excellence, the Knight Center plays an important role in supporting right to public information advoacy and the use of such statutes around the world. The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas supports the right throughout Latin America and trains journalists on how to use disclosure laws. The Knight Center also collaborates with a diverse spectrum of organizations promoting media and citizen rights in Latin America.
The Regional Alliance for Freedom of Expression and Access to Public Information (Spanish)
An alliance of Latin American right-to-information advocacy groups, the site contains links to 20 organizations promoting the right across the region.
The Due Process of Law Foundation
Supporting the modernization of justice systems throughout Latin America, the DPLF helps promote the right to public information throughout the region. The site also provides links to regional and international NGOs.
The Organization of American States: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and the Trust for the Americas
Among the most important proponents of the right in Latin America, numerous OAS organs promote the right to public information. The Inter-American Commission provides documents and research on OAS policy, while the Special Rapporteur publishes annual reports in which journalists' experiences with disclosure practices are examined. The OAS' Trust for the Americas provides a list of its partners throughout the region, including private sector, multilateral and national partners.
Periodistas por el Acceso a la Información Pública (Journalism for Access to Public Information)
An excellent resource for commentary, analysis, and national FOI developments in Latin America, Periodistas also provides links to national organizations and journalists around the region.
Inter American Press Association (IAPA)
The IAPA is a longstanding supporter of information rights in the region and helped to galvanize media support for the right. Their website includes links to their member affiliates, reports, and a valuable library on issues related to freedom of expression and access to information.
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