I would not jump up and down and prance around in ecstatic jubilation over the passage of the Right to Information Law by Parliament if I were a journalist, politician, researcher or anti-corruption crusader, real or only self-perceived. My reasons are the same old, boring ones:
From the apparent perspective of some journalists and politicians, the passage of the law means journalists and everyone seeking access to official information and records can now simply go to any organization, invoke this law in requesting for sensitive official information and hey, presto, it is raining information all over the place.
In reality, the right of access to official information will be subject to some restrictions prescribed by other laws and provisions of the constitution so I would not break into a song and dance over Parliament's passage of the Right to Information Bill.
Those restrictions in public access to official information prescribed by law exist in the interests of democracy, national security, public safety and the protection of the health and morals of the nation's citizens.
Other reasons for restrictions on access to official information may include the prevention of crime, the protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens and the need to prevent the disclosure of lawfully confidential official information.
More than 100 countries around the world have had Right to Information Laws for many years. Malawi, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kenya, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Togo and Vietnam are some of the most recent additions to the list.
Due to an entrenched culture of state secrecy and government bureaucracy, the implementation of the Right to Information Law in many of these countries has been fraught with fairly stiff challenges. For many organizations, citizens' right to information is not an institutional priority.
A way around the issue of probable non-compliance with the Law is to establish, empower and equip an agency that will oversee compliance with the law.
While it may face challenges, the Right to Information Law is still a tool for helping journalists, ordinary citizens, researchers and others to access information that can be used to pressure governments and elected representatives of the people to be accountable in the exercise of their responsibilities.
No journalist should, however, see the Right to Information Law as a magic amulet for information gathering. Nothing beats hard work, diligence and the reporter's cultivation of reliable sources of information when it comes to hunting information.
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