FOIA This! — Digging Out Government Spending

Tracking down local government expenses is a recurrent theme for many successful freedom of information requests. Some recent examples suggest that quite a variety of information is potentially available — about credit card charges, salaries, retirement parties, and even costs of leak investigations. Have a great story you developed using a FOI/RTI request? Send it to us at freeinfo@email.gwu.edu. We’re currently looking for examples regarding immigration.

Protecting Forests with FOI Laws

Every year the world loses 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of forests, an area about the size of Greece. A critical way to stem this forest loss is to make concessions data more transparent. This information is critical as it gives journalists, civil society groups and the public the information they need to hold the government and the private sector accountable for deforestation.

GIJN Member Civio: Fighting for Transparency in Spain

Access to public information, accountability and participatory democracy may have been a reality in many countries for some time — but in Spain they sounded like a utopia. Entrepreneur Jacobo Elosua and computer technician David Cabo decided that this had to change. Their brainchild, Civio, was just recognized with the Gabriel Garcia Marquez award in innovative journalism for its Medicamentalia investigation.

FOI Laws A Global Success Story

All around the world, very real benefits result when legal tools are used to obtain government information. Because there are so many frustrations for those who seek information, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the positive benefits. Freedom of information (FOI) reform advocates need to document and celebrate the victories.

Hungarian Journalists Build New Site After Controversy

In 2014, Hungarian investigative journalist András Pethő wrote an exposé about a series of expensive overseas business trips taken by the chief of staff to Prime Minister Viktor Orban for the popular website Origo.hu. Within days of the story’s publication, Origo’s editor in chief, Gergo Saling, resigned – apparently due to political pressure on Origo’s parent company, Magyar Telecom. Pethő and much of the rest of the site’s news staff quit soon afterwards in solidarity. The walkout led to much scrutiny of Origo and Hungary’s press freedom climate, both in Hungary and internationally.

European Parliament Taken to Court by Journalists from all EU

For the first time ever journalists representing all European member states have teamed up to file complaints with the European Court of Justice against the European Parliament (EP). The institution refused to grant the journalists’ requests for access to information related to how the 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) spend their allowances. Journalists filed complaints with the Court of Justice on 13 November.

Open Data Is Not Open for Business

Open Data should be Open, right? When I read “Open Data” I think it means the data can be used openly by anyone for any purpose. But it ain’t so. Read the fine print in the terms and conditions and you’ll quickly realize that Open Data really means wide open liability. How on earth can Open Data restore trust in government if the governments publishing their own Open Data won’t even accept responsibility for the quality of what they publish?

Reporting that Makes an Impact? Some Answers from Pakistan

On February 15, Pakistan became one of only four countries in the world that make tax records public. The other three are Norway, Finland and Sweden. A year ago, no one would have thought this was possible. Pakistan, after all, is a cesspool of corruption and a paragon of opacity. But check the website of the Federal Bureau of Revenue and you’ll find prominently displayed there a link to the Parliamentarians’ Tax Directory. Click on the link and you’ll get a PDF that lists how much income tax each and every member of Parliament paid in 2013. On March 31, a similar listing will be made publicly available for the tax payments of all citizens. How in the world could this happen in Pakistan?