Sociologist says “access to information is a fundamental human right”

A sociologist talks about the importance of citizens accessing information:

Access to information is a fundamental human right and democracy can’t function unless you know what government is doing, Dominique Clement, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, said Monday.

“By denying people access to information, you’re denying a human right and you’re denying them knowledge of how governments work, and ultimately that harms our democracy,” Clement, a sociology professor, said during a Canadian Historical Association panel discussion at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Calling freedom of information law in Canada “draconian,” Clement, who’s filled about 500 information requests throughout his career, said reform needs to happen nationwide in order for those laws to be effective.

He said privacy commissioners in the provinces should become more arm’s length than they are now and should be answerable to the legislative assembly or parliament, not to any premier or prime minister.

I wonder how democratic governments would respond to this argument. I imagine they would support it and then argue that certain information need to be protected because of national security and other reasons. One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that there is quite a bit of public/government information that is not easily accessible. Of course, non-democratic governments may not be too happy with these arguments as restricting information is deemed vital – see Iran’s recent efforts to create a national Intranet.

But this is related to a thought I have had in the past: is Internet access, particularly because of its ability to share and produce information, going to become a human right in the near future? Should rights regarding information apply to all information on the Internet or just “vital information” that citizens might need to participate in the civic realm? What would be the response in Western nations if Internet access was severely limited, even if a case could be made for it (like a threat of attack)?

Sporting events and human rights

With FIFA’s recent awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qater, some commentators have discussed whether the expansion of football (soccer) was the overriding principle in the decision. Ann Killion of Sports Illustrated suggests the decision didn’t really account for human rights at all:

Amnesty International and Freedomhouse.org raise serious concerns about Qatar from a human rights perspective. A 2010 report by the Office of the United Nations high Commissioner for Refugees rated Qatar “not free.” While women have been granted some rights in recent years, in practice they have very little ability to pursues those rights. In 1996 a gay American citizen was sentenced to six months in prison and 90 lashes…

Using a mega-sporting event as an instrument of social change is a dubious proposition. Did human rights improve in China after the Beijing Olympics –or are restrictions on freedom even greater now?

Is Qatar going to magically transform for one month of football 12 years from now? Are football fans going to be able to freely drink a cold beer in the 120-degree heat? Are women and gay visitors going to be accepted?

Somehow I don’t think the 22 men of FIFA’s executive committee really care.

Should a sports body, such as FIFA or the Olympics, take human rights into consideration? This is an interesting discussion. FIFA claims to be about football all over the world, hence their recent plans to have the World Cup be hosted on multiple continents. But whether this spreading is motivated solely by money or about truly sharing the world’s game is another matter.

If a sports body did require certain levels of human rights for countries to host (or to be able to send athletes), could this change any policies anywhere? And if it didn’t change state policies, would it be harming individual athletes who are not responsible for the stance of their home nation? The only example I can think of is that of South Africa where they were not allowed to participate in the Olympics until the apartheid policies changed.

On the basis of human rights, would athletes and nations be willing to boycott a worldwide sports body like FIFA or the Olympics?

Ultimately, we may have make a judgment about whether human rights or money is a bigger motivating factor for sporting bodies and nations. And if money does seem to be the main factor, the task for human rights advocates is to figure out how to counter.