Government to hide behind lowered curtain
Danish politicians are on the verge to create an access free zone for themselves. Proposal for a new law on freedom of information draws criticism.
The Danish center-left goverment has signed a political deal with two of the opposition parties on a new law on access to public documents and information.
The deal, agreed behind closed doors, is not yet a formal proposal, but might very well become law within the coming six months.
Although backed by a broad political majority, critics expresses surprise of the content.
A much disputed paragraph on exemptions for access remains from an earlier proposal, the only change is the language.
The paragraph states that documents sent or received by official authorities when they serve a member of the government in preparing legislation shall not be accessible. In the EU-institutions this is often referred to giving the lawmakers a ”time to think”.
The exact wording for a future Danish regulation is yet to be seen.
Service to ministers
A previous proposal to exempt ”service to ministers” was heavily criticised, and it was widely believed that the present government elected last year would not hold on to this exemption.
But so it seems, never the less.
Minister of justice Morten Bødskov (Social Democrats) says in a comment:
”I have been very aware of the criticism that has been made, and I am very pleased that a broad majority in parliament now clarifies the particular case, when the rule can be used. The rule is an exception to the clear rule that everyone has access to documents in the civil service, and the parties are therefore also agree that the rule should be applied restrictively.”
Oluf Jørgensen, a legal expert and a former member of a commission that elaborated on a new law for ten years, is not impressed. He says, referring to the broad political backing:
”This is nor red or blue. This is a black day for Danish public access.”
A curtain is lowered
Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, president of the Danish Journalists' Union says a dark curtain will be lowered around Slotsholmen – the governmental area in Copenhagen.
Bjerregård is also stunned by a new catch to prevent misuse of the access right.
If a request for access takes more than 25 hours to process it shall be rejected on the ground of excessive workload for the authorities. But this exemption shall not apply to employed journalists.
”This is a completely unacceptable discrimination of freelance journalists who are increasingly delivering content to the media,” Bjerregård notes.
When the previous proposal was tabled by the former government journalists and editors went at length to document what well known scandals would have been kept in the dark had the exemption for ”service to the ministers” been in force.
Similar reactions are to be expected following the new proposal.
Footnote: For the agreement and a background note byt the ministry of Justice (in Danish only) see Documents