Right to Information
Posted by rtiact2005 on June 12, 2006
Right to Information
Professionalisation diversification and specialization are essential elements for an effective communications process in its varied aspects. We cannot imagine life without communication in one form or the other. There should be adequate communication policy and programmes tailored to meet the needs of a democratic society to function effectively in its endeavours for a better quality of life. Article 16 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1990, guarantees the right to information, which inherently entails also duty to inform the public.
Many countries have been emphasizing a great deal on effective communication. Democratic societies are especially keen in finding and refining mechanisms for informing the public to the maximum extent possible in terms of content, speed of the message delivery and the extent of information thus provided. The Constitution of Nepal did raise great expectations since it places considerable emphasis on freedom of expression and right to information. In fact, Nepal is the first country in the whole of South Asia to constitutionally guarantee the right to information. And yet, even twelve years after the new Constitution was promulgated, an adequate mechanism has not yet been developed to ensure dissemination of information sought by Nepalese citizens.
Officials at public institutions have been pleading that they do not know what information to give and what to withhold. In reality, they have developed a habit of preferring to keep silent. If persistently pressed for answers, they resort to generalities or touch upon only the surface of the issue raised or they simply deny knowledge of certain developments. They have been able to do this and get away with it. On the question of the right to information, the Constitution of Nepal is far more explicit than many other countries with a long tradition of democratic practices.
Clearly, there is an urgent need for a right to information Act in Nepal so that the constitutional guarantee in this respect is respected in practice. There was an effort on a right to information bill in the past but the draft came in for vehement criticism and was quickly withdrawn. When and how, and in what shape and content a new bill will be introduced in parliament is not definite. The longer the delay the greater the confusion and uncertainty.
In recent years, fresh efforts were made to introduce a bill pertaining to right to information. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists even took the initiative of making a draft for the same and handed it over to the minister of information and Communication.
Popular participation can be enlisted on a large scale only if people are well informed. In a modern democracy, good governance is essential. Among the chief characteristics of good governance are transparency and accountability, elements that can be best ensured only when information is available abundantly and as speedily as possible. Therein rests the significance of the right to information. Flow of information from different channels of communication, including the news media, can help promote a culture of responsibility, accountability and credibility at decision-making levels. Public institution need to the made to provide information sought by citizens at the earliest possible. The resultant information flow through the news media and other forums can help members of society monitor the decisions and developments in various sectors. In this regard, the mass media can play a vital role. However, partisanship in the media continues to affect their credibility to a large extent.
The electronic media have, indeed, contributed greatly in making the world smaller by the speed with which they collect and disseminate information to large audiences. Dramatic changes have, thus, occurred in most democratic countries. There is pluralism in not only the print media but also in the electronic media. The choices available are extensive and the services professional and affordable. Right to information means pluralism in the broadcast media as well, i. e. the broadcast media in the private sector should also be allowed to inform the public with their own news bulletins and current affairs programmes.
In sum, there is a need for drafting a new and comprehensive communication policy. The present day is considered the age of information and communication. Many countries have achieved a high degree of success on this score while many more are moving towards obtaining similar success. Nepal should not lag behind and should narrow the gap between the information-rich and information-poor.
(Based on an article published in The Rising Nepal on 11 October 2000)