Monday, August 22, 2011

Freedom of Information establishes a “right-to-know”

Mamadou Edrisa Njie Ag. Editorial Assistant

Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation comprises laws that guarantee access to information held by the state. It establishes a “right-to-know”
legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information to be given freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions.
A law of freedom of information, if enacted, the public and private bodies will be emboldened to give-out information to the media without fear of reprisal.

With Freedom of Information Act, journalists from both public and private media will have easy access to information from the government to inform the masses.
Such easy access will no doubt lead to an enlightened society, which in turn will no doubt promote and consolidate democracy, good governance, peace and stability, accountability and rule of law.
The Gambia is among countries that do not have freedom of information Act in its law books.
In Africa there are only few countries, which have the FOI Act life and kicking. These are South Africa that has it 2000, Zimbabwe 2002, Uganda 2005, Liberia 2010 and of recent Nigeria 2011. These countries are the few African states that have legislation which obliges public and private institutions to divulge information that is of public interest.
With Freedom of Information Act in The Gambia, like in all other countries it will give many if not all, especially the journalists the right to access information held by public bodies and even by private bodies in the country.
As citizens of The Gambia and Africa as a whole, we need to have easy access to information about issues in our society and this can only be possible if such a law on access to information is enacted.
Freedom of information is also key in any national development. It is only an enlighten citizen that can take meaningful part in a national development.
Freedom of information Act must not been seen as an obstacle to improved economic and social conditions, but as an asset, and a conduit to such a development.
The burden on the media will be a thing of the past, if freedom of information is enacted in the country.
When such a law is enacted will shift the onus of obtaining information from the press to the citizenry as a whole.
Thus, freedom of information Act will empower and encourage professionalism in the media and journalism. This is because such law creates a level playing field and removes any possibility of misrepresentation.
FIO promotes a system of checks and balances in which both the government and media, as well as the general public will have a common standard and interaction on the basis of which information is produced.
Therefore, if anyone’s right is violated, he or she will have the right to seek redress in a court of law.
When we talk about freedom of information, we are
talking about lots advantages, as it will fundamentally encourage professionalism and honesty in public servants. Such a law makes our public institutions equally accountable, efficient and productive.
Freedom and access to information law will serve as a platform for empowerment of the people to demand answers from the government and public institutions in the way and manner they run national affairs and manage public resources.
Ambassador Ayo Oke, head of Africa Section, Political Affairs Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, London at the Commonwealth forum in Banjul says much work needs to be done by governments, media and civil society in advocating for legislation and implementation of
freedom of information law.
He says, “the single most important obstacle to a healthy media and government relationship in Africa and elsewhere is failure to recognise the crucial role played by the media in the creation of conditions that promote transparency and good governance.”
Thus one can certainly say that, with a law on freedom and access to information, there will be less rumour mongering about issues happening in the Executive, Judiciary even in the private sector concerning exploitation in all its forms etc.
Journalists on the other hand will have access to the information to clarify issues for the public concerning the private and public sectors.
The journalist can freely indicate the source of the
information he/she obtains for publication in accordance with the law.
The right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media, which is explicitly, guaranteed in the law books need to be exercised to the fullest in all
its forms.

Author: The author of this article: Mamadou Edrisa Njie is the Ag. Editorial Assistant/ Newsroom Coordinator at The Gambia News and Report Weekly Magazine and Publisher of

No comments: