Right to information and the role of media – Part 2

The previous article emphasized that the media sector has a special responsibility to interpret and safeguard the right to information in Sri Lanka. The reason is that unlike India, Sri Lanka has no civil society that struggled for the right to information. The citizens in Sri Lanka won it as a privilege. The number of applications related to the right to information received by the public institutes proves that only a fraction of the society understands its value. The quality of the process of information is unsatisfactory. Therefore, educating the society on the right to information and meaningful use is a duty of the media and the civil society. 

Right to information does not go against the public authorities and the officials. It complements the services of the public offices and contributes to positive changes in terms of attitudes. Public service was in a culture of withholding information for a long time, and now a new culture of revealing information is being developed. The citizens can request a range of information from straightforward facts to the data that cannot be obtained easily. They can appeal when the institutes reject providing information. The right to information proves a powerful claim not only because of the strength of the articles of the act. Strong precedents of use of it are also important. For example, the practices of the civil society that exceeded the limits of the individual citizens contributed to broaden and strengthen the fundamental rights field of Sri Lanka. The role of the media and civil society is similar.   

However, media and civil society alone cannot strengthen the right to information. That right is legally peoplized, but they are responsible to permanently and practically take it to people. They can perform many tasks including making the citizens aware of the right to information, encouraging and guiding the citizens to use the right to information with the personal and community issues, providing media platforms for propagating the victories of the people achieved through the use of the right to information and empowering the citizen activists who use the right to information for common goals. Already the civil organizations and media perform similar actions, but such engagements are trivial compared to society’s needs.

Four years’ balance sheet

When focusing on the use of the right to information by the journalists in the past four years, it seems that very few journalists use this privilege. However, we can see many practices ranging from reporting based on a simple fact obtained through a single right to information application to investigative reports based on extensive information from various institutes obtained through many right to information applications over a long time. These journalists do not give up their search of information when their applications are rejected, and they appeal to the Right to Information Commission, creating complex situations. Thus they contribute immensely to broaden the right to information. The journalists who request information in Tamil language have successfully focused on the practical reality of the official language policy. 

Challenges faced by journalists

Only a fraction of the journalists has used the right to information as a tool of journalism. They too, are encouraged by their own interest and not because of the persuasion or the assignments of the media organizations. It is pathetic that certain media organizations do not facilitate such attempts by their journalists. The carelessness regarding improving the quality of the media content is remarkable, while the issues related to media ethics are also a part of the situation. In some instances, the journalists’ hard work at their own costs for investigative reporting is not appreciated. 

Numerous media and civil organizations make people aware of the right to information, train the journalists on it and encourage them to use it for reporting. In such a backdrop, journalists have the bitter experience of some media managers considering the right to information as a project of non-governmental organizations. Meanwhile, since recently, some state and pro-government media try to discourage reporting based on the right to information, considering it was a previous regime project. We must discuss all these challenges openly. It will lead to safeguard the right to information and to encourage citizens to use it. 

Leave a Reply