Access to information is vital in empowering citizens to make informed decisions about their own lives and hold their governments accountable. This means it is critical to democracy.Yet many citizens are unaware of their legal right to information.
On November 3, 2015 UNESCO adopted resolution (38 C/70), which proclaims September 28 as International Day of Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). It was originally known as ‘Right to Know’ day after freedom of expression advocates from 15 countries met to encourage openness and liability of governments during a conference in Bulgaria, 2002.
Raising awareness on the right to access to information is an ongoing process and much still needs to be done to ensure that people know that they can and how to assess information.
The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), based in South Africa, is one of many organisations dedicated to promoting access to information.
FXI acting director Rea Simigiannis says the organisation's training programmes around promotion of access to information has helped communities understand local government commitments and budgets. As local governments are often responsible for delivering critical services, therefore play a central role in addressing poverty.In addition, people who need information, can access information from the companies concerned.
“In terms of Africa, there are a number of laws in place in many countries that promote access to information, but few implement them,” said Simigiannis.
“There is often an unwillingness to implement them. For example, Malawi’s Constitution of 1995 stipulates the right to access information, but the law was passed in December 2016, with much resistance from Government,” she said.
The ultimate goal of the IDUAI is to promote diversity in the cyberspace, the adoption of access to information law, the increased implementation of Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation in African countries.
To support this initiative, UNESCO has taken on several programs, such as the Information for All Program and the International Program for the Development of Communication.
Resolution (38 C/70) considers access to information as one of the main priorities of UNESCO’s activities, as the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 16.10 stands to ensure public access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.
The right of access to information is established under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1966, which states that all people have the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. In facilitating people’s access to information, people are better empowered to make informed decisions in all areas of their lives.
frayintermedia has partnered with Wits University to develop a free online course called “Civil Society and African Media Policy in the Digital Age” in honour of South African media freedom and freedom of expression activist #Jeanette Minnie, who passed on in 2016. The course is available on the edX platform. Registration is open and the first course starts on , 10th of October 2018.