For a free flow of info
27 August, 2010 – How will a right to information act further help you to access more information, which you already have?
This was a question posed by the prime minister to the media in yesterday’s meet the press forum, where the cabinet spends about two hours answering questions from the media.
The prime minister went on to say that, despite the absence of an RTI Act, journalists were given all access to information that was possible.
Considering what it was like in the past, what the prime minister said is true to a large extent. Today, with the use of technology and a greater awareness within the government for the need to be transparent, there is a lot more information available.
Almost every government ministry and agency has an online website, where information is uploaded for everyone to access and the whole meet the press forum, which was held for the sixth time yesterday, has given journalists the opportunity to ask pertinent questions and hear the answers from the horse’s mouth.
To that extent the culture of functioning in secrecy, which is widely regarded as a breeding ground for corruption, mismanagement and abuse of power, appears to have been shed.
Still, despite the openness of the government, which is a necessity in the new political environment, and the sweeping changes advancement in technology is bringing globally, journalists will vouch that access to information does not quite exist, as the leaders of the ruling government think it is.
Of course, whether a journalist can get information that the newspaper wants depends on a number of factors like credibility, personal contact or the ability to convince, or manipulate. In many cases, it is difficult to get access to hard data, like the number of buildings in Thimphu city, for example. Sometimes such data just does not seem to be there at all.
For journalists, the need for RTI is to a large extent driven by the desire to write good stories, even though RTI is in essence about empowering ordinary citizens to question government and bureaucracy about what has been done and not done, not media people in particular.
Still, it is the journalist, who can bring out the inconsistencies that might exist in government and bureaucratic functioning, by invoking the RTI.
The Constitution specifically guarantees right to information as a fundamental right, but it can be guaranteed only if it exists in the form of a law that citizens can refer to.
Although the Bhutanese media is often criticised for getting even right information wrong, greater access to information can only make journalists become more professional. When access is made free for all and available everywhere, journalists are compelled to work harder to produce a good story.