Institutions of Information Access and Constraint: The Cases of China and India

Institutions of Information Access and Constraint: The Cases of China and India

Jeannine E. Relly (University of Arizona, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-753-1.ch013
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This chapter examines institutions of information access and the potential for information asymmetry in China and India, both of which have recently adopted access-to-information regulations and legislation, respectively. An examination of these two countries largely is a study of most-different cases. The chapter uses the framework of institutionalism to follow the history of government information policy in both nations and to examine measurements of the political, cultural, and economic environments in which access-to-information legislation is adopted, implemented, enforced, and used by the public.
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The two Asian nations described as “continental-sized economies” joined a minority of developing nations in the world in adopting access-to-information legislation and regulations in the new millennium (Goswani, 2006, p.77; Relly, 2009). Though China’s Open Government Information regulations (2007) and India’s Right to Information Act (Gazette of India, 2005) may differ in what they propose and deliver, both governments had, to an extent, informing the public, combating corruption, and economic development as motives for adopting the laws that signal governmental openness (Banisar, 2006; Horsley, 2007a, 2007b; Guha Thakurta, 2009; Zhiyong, 2008). The two nations joined a club of more than six dozen nations and territories with access-to-information laws, regulations, ordinances, and codes, in what has been described as a global diffusion of information policy (Relly, 2009).

Yale legal scholar Jamie P. Horsley wrote that China’s open-government regulations “mark a turning point away from the deeply ingrained culture of government secrecy toward making Chinese government operations and information more transparent” (2007b, p.1). Scholar Alasdair Roberts (2010) wrote that the activity in India around the Right to Information Act is “the most exciting experiment with [Freedom of Information Act-style] laws in the world today” (p. 27).

This comparative study is the first to examine the similarities and differences in the political, cultural, and economic institutions of access to public information and governmental openness in China and India, nations that together account for more than a third of the world’s 6.8 billion people and half of the poorest (U.S. Census, 2010; Guha Thakurta, 2009; Zhiyong, 2008; The Economist, 2009), which in itself provides strong potential for an enormous information-access divide.

There are numerous reasons to study access to information in these two nations. Access to information has become a social, political and economic issue in both nations. The two nations’ economies are neck and neck in growth, and interest in information from these nations is insatiable, given that the two have expanded in dismal economic times and amidst a global recession at the end of the first decade of the new millennium, when other nations had declined in growth (Guha Thakurta, 2009, p. 1). Like India, which had state-level access-to-information laws before the legislation was adopted on the national level, China began adopting access-to-information legislation at the municipal and provincial levels before the Open Government Information regulations were adopted (Horsley, 2006; Snell & Xiao, 2007, p. 46).

Historically, the two nations have had different approaches to government-held information and access to it, which provides for markedly varied contrasts. China has the largest population in the world with one-party rule and India has the second largest number of citizens and is the world’s largest democracy. The two nations also have very different narratives when it comes to their histories of governmental reform toward increased accountability in governance and the driving forces behind the adoption of access-to-information legislation and regulations.

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