Right to access information
All individuals as citizens of any country have the right to seek and receive information held by government (except those concerning national security) and private authorities with a view to ensuring transparency. In 2009, Bangladesh has enacted the Right to Information Act, 2009 for ensuring the free flow of information to the citizens to establish good governance. Right to access information is an integral part of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and expression. Moreover, knowing and receiving information is pre-requisite of the transmission of knowledge and information which is widely executed by journalists.
The freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh as a fundamental right. Though the right to seek and receive information is not cited explicitly in the constitution, the Preamble of the Right to Information (hereinafter RTI) Act declares this right as an inalienable part of freedom of expression. Therefore, to make the RTI Act effective, Information Commission of Bangladesh (ICB) has been delegated to deal with publishing and providing information on demand of the citizens. However, the genus of this right can be traced back to Resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly adopted in 1946 and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948, where the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information was encapsulated as part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Moreover, right to information has been enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (ICCPR).
Despite the legal framework, in Bangladesh, journalists face considerable challenges in accessing information held by public or private authorities due to misuse and shortcomings of this Act. According to the Section 7 of RTI Act, none of the authorities is obliged to provide information concerning state security, international relations, intellectual property rights, law enforcement, judicial and investigation activities and so forth to the citizens. Inclusion of section 7 of RTI Act is undoubtedly crucial to secure state security and privacy of individuals. In pursuance of this, journalists are often excluded from receiving information and thereby are left with no option but to take resort to usual 'sources' to gather information while investigating on any private or public authorities. In accordance with Bangladesh Right to Information (RTI) Survey 2019, conducted by the World Bank, journalists are pointed as majority of requesters. As per this Survey, majority of journalists observed that RTI Act does not provide enough benefit in terms of receiving information due to its slow and time-consuming process. For this reason, they lose eagerness to use this Act. For extensive and efficacious use of the RTI Act, the practice of disseminating information to the journalists should be improved. Furthermore, to give effect to the right to information, necessary procedures have to be taken for timely processing of requests of citizens for information and the reasonable reasons should be given by the authorities in case of any denial or refusal.
As of now, 113 States have adopted right to information legislation to ensure effective and practical access to information. All states introduced this legislation not only to fulfill the international obligations but also to accelerate transparency and credibility between citizens and government. The RTI Act, 2009 of Bangladesh is certainly appreciable but not comprehensible to all people especially in countryside areas. Recently, some NGOs are adding their utmost efforts for individual incentive of accessing information by using RTI Act. Overall, government intervention and co-operation are essential to overcome the challenges of this Act with a view to securing the right to information as a fundamental right of people.
The writer is an Intern and Member of Research Wing at A.S & Associates.