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Political Parties Must Disclose Their Benefactors

Interesting article in the most circulated daily newspaper Dnevnik on September 27th, 2011

Меѓународен ден на слободниот пристап до информации

Last year the Commission for Protection of the Right to Free Access to Information was addressed with as many as 110 appeals lodged against political parties. In Commission’s opinion, the high number of appeals lodged against political parties is mainly a result of their reluctance to disclose financial information and reports on donations received, as well as their ignorance of the legislation in effect that governs this matter. Moreover, the political parties are not unique in demonstrating such behaviour, given that these practices are applied by the institutions as well. Actually, this situation was stated today on the events organized around the International Right to Know Day. Connoisseurs from other countries who attended the public debate organized on this topic emphasized the fact that striking a balance between free access to public information and personal data protection is difficult, even for the lawyers.

-I was a journalist for 12 years. I did not hold relevant legal knowledge, but was rather led by common sense. I do not know the state-of-affairs in Macedonia, but common sense is often missing – said the Slovenian Information Commissioner, Natasa Pirc Musar, in her opening remarks at today’s workshop organized around the issue of striking a balanced reporting with duly respect of the right to free access to information and the right on personal data protection by state and other institutions who dispose with public information.

On the occasion of the International Right to Know Day, the Commission for Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information informed that majority of FOI appeals are lodged by legal entities, which indicates that many civil society organizations and foundations frequently resort to the Freedom of Information Law as a mechanism to access public information.

Significant share of appeals are lodged against the institutions

A total of FOI appeals were lodged in the period September 2010 – September 2011. Most often, information requested is used for research purposes in support of different projects targeting the enforcement of the Freedom of Information Law, as well as monitoring the Commission’s work. Equally important is the number of appeals lodged by citizens (96 appeals were lodged in the same reporting period). This reporting period is marked by higher number of appeals lodged against state institutions (196 in total) compared to those lodged against municipalities, health facilities and other institutions. As part of events organized around 28th September, the International Right to Know Day, yesterday the Commission – in cooperation with TAIEX’s expert mission – organized a workshop titled “Misdemeanour Procedure and Enforcement of Misdemeanour Provisions from the Freedom of Information Law “.

The Princess of Monaco wins the lawsuit

Slovenia’s Information Commissioner, Natasa Pirc Musar, explains that legislation in effect, as well as politicians, need to support the journalists and the Commission, notably by adopting solid legislative acts that provide balance. She offered an interesting answer to the issue of privacy.

- Every case is unique. Journalists must use their own experience and assess what the public should be informed on. There are several layers of privacy. First one includes the privacy at home; what happens in the toilets, bedrooms… and thus this privacy can be invaded only by court-issued order. The second layer covers the life domain outside the house. Privacy at public squares is not the same as privacy in forests, for example. Moreover, clear distinction is needed also in terms of who is entitled to less privacy. Politicians, music performers, sportsmen, actors…. they are public figures entitled to lower level of privacy. If I get drunk at public place and somebody covers the story, am I entitled to indemnity? After all, I am a public figure. The competent court in Germany took a verdict for the benefit of the Princess of Monaco, notably because she asked to be given privacy in public, but was photographed together with her lover at a café by a paparazzo. Another category includes the relatively public figures, for example, Suzan Boyle. Overnight - after appearing on a popular talent show - she became a celebrity. Third layer of privacy covers personal data and privacy of communications. In that regard, distinction is made between public figures and common citizens, i.e., the former are entitled to lower level of privacy and thus their names can be published in public, as well as the salaries they earn. However, in that context due consideration and care should be given to the principles of proportion and balance; hence the question whether publication of their addresses, telephone numbers, how many children they have or their children’s name is needed.

Sven Hermeshmit, the legal officer at the German Federal Commission for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, said:

- Germany has a long-standing culture of information creation. By 2006, all information disposed by public authorities was considered confidential although there were no special provisions governing their nondisclosure. Today, all such information must be made publicly available, unless otherwise classified as secret. In more than 90 percent of cases, the right to personal data protection trumps the right to free access to information.

Merkel was presented with a verdict on information disclosure

German Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, organized an official dinner party to mark the establishment of Deutsche Bank – shares Sven Hermeshmit from the German Commission.

Меѓународен ден на слободниот пристап до информации

- Media outlets wanted to know the names of bank managers invited to the dinner party. The Commission said that this information should be made available given the fact that the Prime Minister is a public figure and therefore the dinner party is considered part and parcel of her official duties. However, the Prime Minister’s Cabinet rejected to disclose the information requested. Dinner invitees’ names were disclosed following the verdict reached by the Administrative Court. Journalists in Germany receive information needed from state institutions by using the Law on Press, which contains fewer exceptions in terms of classified information. However, journalists must make due care not to use information received for the purpose of breaching somebody’s right to privacy. For example, in traffic accident case one should never publish names of people involved therein, unless it is a matter of public figures. Or - for example - if somebody has been imprisoned for 30 years, the media must not repeat his/her name once the person’s re-socialization process has started – he explained.

Natali N. Sotirovska