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International Day for Universal Access to Information: Access to Information in Times of Crisis

 

HIREN PANDIT :: Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO has announced “Access to Information in Times of Crisis” as the theme of the 2020 edition of the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), celebrated every year on 28 September.

Commemorated around the slogan “Access to Information – Saving lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope!”, the event will contribute to the exchange of good practices and guidelines on the right to access information. It will highlight the key role of access to information in saving lives and mitigating the impact of emergencies such as the current pandemic as well as in shaping sustainable policies.

In many countries, people have learned that access to accurate and timely information can be a matter of life and death. Access to information also makes it possible for the citizen to follow responses to the crisis such as confinement rules, regulations of travel and schooling, virus testing, medical equipment supplies, and economic aid or stimulus packages.

Information Commission is going to be celebrated across the country,International Day for Universal Access to Information-2020 with CSOs, NGOs, and other Stakeholders. To celebrate the day with due importance and realize its significance, the Information Commission selected the theme from the perspective of Bangladesh, “SathikSomoyTothya Pele,JanagonerMukti Mele” (Global Theme is Access to Information in Times of Crisis, Access to Information – Saving lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope).

According to the constitution of Bangladesh, the people are the authority and power of the country. Therefore, the people have the right to know the information kept in government and non-government organizations of the country. Therefore, the Right to Information Act-2009 has been enacted in our country to create a free flow of information and ensure the right to information of the people. According to this law, if you ask for information, the authorities and all government agencies and government and non-government organizations or institutions are obliged to provide you information.

The right to information is one of the main tools for empowering people. Therefore, access to information must be ensured for the empowerment of the people. Ensuring the right to information of the people will increase transparency and accountability in the activities of all government institutions and non-government organizations or institutions to reduce corruption, and establish good governance.

Subject to the provisions of the Right to Information Act, every citizen shall have the right to obtain information from the authorities and the concerned authority shall be obliged to provide information to any citizen upon his/her request.

The security, integrity, and sovereignty of the country are in the interest of the people and the country; International relations; Intellectual property rights; Law enforcement; Increase in crime; Security of the people; fair justice; Personal privacy; Court injunctions; Contempt of court; Interruption of investigation, Loss of special rights of the National Parliament; the provision of certain information has been kept out of obligation considering the decision of the cabinet, etc. The government has also emphasized the importance of exercising the right to information to implement the National Integrity Strategy.

The Right to Information Act is for everyone. Establishing one’s rights over information is now a matter of urgency. We need to work closely with representatives of government, non-government organizations, civil society, and voluntary organizations to encourage the use of this Right to Information Act 2009.

Access to information to respect and maintain the right to information especially amid the COVID-19 Outbreak.In times of emergencies such as the COVID-19 Pandemic, we need to protect the right to access to information, so that communities can protect themselves and their families. Journalist debunks the falsehood and reports the facts about the disease. Scientists and Policymakers provide us with directive and guidance on how to adapt tothe COVID-19 pandemic. Citizens can know the measures to prevent and mitigate the risks. We need public information without delay, with strong and effective institutions to keep citizens informed. Access to information is not a burden but a right that needs to be supported by law and any restrictions to this right should conform to the law be proportionate and limited to protects the citizens.

Information saves lives in times of crisis. Because of COVID-19, we have realized how important it is for people to have accurate, timely, and reliable information. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people knew and understood what they should do and where to go if needed, where to get help.

Community radios are playing an important role in improving the lives and livelihoods of the rural population through access to information, dealing with natural disasters, and raising public awareness on the COVID-19 epidemic.

Print, electronic and online media are playing an encouraging role inthe prevention of the COVID-19Pandemic.18 community radio stations and two online radio stations are broadcasting regular programs to address and adapt to the new normal situation.

Print, electronic, online media, and community media are having a positive impact on creating public awareness as a result of the campaign to prevent COVID-19. As a result, panic in the minds of the people is gradually reducing and the people are taking necessary preventive measures. Now they are getting information about this. Print, electronic, online, and community media have established themselves as a source of reliable information to the community people of Bangladesh.

However, even though the Right to Information Act was enacted in 2009, but the desired goal has not been achieved yet. Regulations on data protection and management have been enacted in 2010 and regulations on filing and disposal of grievances have been framed in 2011. The right to information has been recognized since the beginning of the law as an integral part of the freedom of speech, thought, and conscience of the citizens.

At the local level, however, the government and service providers are working to obtain information under the Right to Information Act 2009, although some challenges remain there. There is a lack of sensitivity in the discharge of duties, lack of knowledge of officials about the law, lack of awareness among the community and young people, and there is still ambiguity among the people due to lack of publicity about the law.

It is important to raise awareness about this Right to Information Act 2009, especially among the community people, and the youth. Enhancing the capacity of the officers is also urgent and rewards can be provided to the officers who provide the most qualified and significant number of information. In this way, the success of this law will be possible to reach the doorsteps of the people if the awareness campaign and capacity development areundertaken in a coordinated manner. Ensuring the right to information of the people will increase transparency and accountability in the activities of all government institutions and non-government organizations or institutions, reduce corruption, and establish good governance.

It is the time to address the challenges of public access to information and achieve the objectives of the International Day for Universal Access to Information, especially in achieving the sustainable development goals, especially peace, justice, and strong institutions.

 

 

The writer is amedia development activist. Email: [email protected]

 

 

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