On February 24 this year the Coalition of 15 NGOs designed the declaration under the title Public has the right to know. based on Directions of the Ministry Committee of the EC referring to access to information. The vary same Coalition had designed the firsts draft of the Law on access to information already in year 2002, and the Parliament adopted final text of that Law on October 15, 2003. It is rather interesting that the very base on that Law has been found in Constitution regulation defining the right of the media representatives – the journalists – to information. The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, Article 38, defines: “Censorship is forbidden. Journalists have the right to inform freely and to have unlimited access to information”. The very same right has been given to all Croatian citizens, that is practically to every body (just some exceptions have been noted).

Along with the Constitution, the Coalition of NGOs has found ground for the new Law in some other laws regulating especially access to information. Very important in that respect are current Law on media, Law on electronic media and the Law on Croatian radio and Television. In their declaration the Coalition insisted on Convention on human rights, on European Court for Human Rights interpretation, on European Council documents, etc. Law on right to access to information has been adopted as lex specialis and its basic rule might be summarized in one sentence: All information owned and controlled by state bodies are – public! Any limitations of that principle should be very rare and precisely noted in the laws. The aim of that Law is to make information and activities of public administration public.

The Law regulates that right to access to information owned by public administration have all citizens without any discrimination. Some special rights though have media, that is journalists. Public administration is to inform public about its activities without any special request and that includes information on administration organization, costs, budgets, sources of income, tenders, etc. For the moment that is not exercised in Croatia. Namely, administration does not act according to that Law. Even the Croatian Government does not follow that Law, as it has not yet published the list of public bodies. And dead line to do so was January 31.

The Law stipulates two ways of access to information: one is by special request and other is by regular publication of information. If person/body issues special request to get any information, he/it does not have to make clear his/its reasons for asking it. Public body has the obligation to respond to the request within time limits of 15 days. (30 days if several information asked for).

The Law stipulates even legal protection of that right: 1.to lodge the complaint to higher body or 2. to report to the Administration Court. It even stipulates the function of information officer in every public body. That position should not be mixed with public relation officer, as that information officer has the duty to issue information asked for or make possible for other officers to do so. Execution of that Law is under control of Central Administration Office of the Government.

The mentioned Coalition of NGOs has concluded that the Law is just the first step in the process of democratization regarding access to information and regarding modernization of the state services. The Coalition has started the campaign to press the state administration and make people aware of their rights to information. In that respect many round table discussions, seminars, workshops and meeting (local and international) will be organized. The Coalition has already printed some leaflets and brochures to make general public aware of the problem. There are basically 6 demands that Coalition insist upon in its Declaration Public has the right to know: 1. official information are to be made public and accessible to everybody; 2. public administration is to give information and to publish them; 3. citizens should be aware of their rights to have access to information; 4. any limitation is just an exception, not the rule; 5. time limits for issuing the information is to be respected and 6. through that modern, efficient and open public administration will be achieved.

I find it is actually the question of time when general public will exercise its democratic right to be informed.