By Donald C. Rowat
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Extra info for Administrative Secrecy in Developed Countries
The fourth motive bears close relationship to the third. Thanks to the principle of public access to official documents, the public discussion of the aims and means of governmental activities- a discussion that is of vital importance to a democratic society- can be founded on a more solid basis. In chapter 2 of the Freedom of the Press Act the principle of public access finds expression in the stating of a right for every Swedish citizen to have access to official documents. The more precise meaning of this right will be discussed below.
As a result, the press bureau sends out annually about 5000 government stories on the national wire and about 40,000 to local newspapers. Reporters in Norway and Finland (but not Denmark) also do daily rounds of ministries but there the coverage is not so thorough. In Finland, for instance, during my visit in 1973 reporters from the national press bureau were making daily rounds to only three ministries: Interior, Transport, and Social and Health. Reporters do not call daily at the Ombudsman's office, and rely mainly on his press releases and annual report for news stories on cases.
Another reason we have not questioned the principle is that in modern democracies much administrative information is made freely available. In fact, a torrent of information pours out of government offices every day- millions of words a year. Modern Governments make a genuine effort to inform the public about their administrative programmes and activities. As a result, the general public are not fully aware that much administrative information is purposely withheld, or that the information released is slanted in favour of the Government and its bureaucracy.