The Surrender of Secrecy? Explaining the Strength of Transparency and Access to Information Laws

57 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 22 Aug 2009

Date Written: 2009


Is there any democratic building block more fundamental than accurate government information? Countries around the world have enacted more than 85 access to government information laws (FOIA or transparency) over the past decade. This paper provides an explanation for why some countries pass strong transparency laws while others come up short. It points to two necessary conditions for strong laws, the support of the news media and legislatively compromised leaders. Whereas structural reforms have been known to require strong executives in full possession of their legislative faculties, the evidence suggests that effective accountability and transparency measures may require just the opposite. A broad analysis of laws across Latin America, including case studies on Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico and Uruguay illustrate the paper’s central argument. I employ interview and archival evidence, data from quantitative content analyses and an original evaluation of laws to illustrate the wide variation of strength in access to government information laws across the region. I find that laws are enacted earlier, stronger and news media coverage is more robust when leaders are legislatively compromised. The paper develops novel frameworks for understanding news media policy advocacy and the relationship between legislative balances of power and transparency legislation.

Suggested Citation

Michener, Gregory, The Surrender of Secrecy? Explaining the Strength of Transparency and Access to Information Laws (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Gregory Michener (Contact Author)

EBAPE/FGV ( email )

R. Dr. Neto de Araujo 320 cj 1307
Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro 22250-900


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