MRA Joins Global Rights Groups to Call on Governments to Restore Legal and Practical Processes for Access to Information

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Mr. Edetaen Ojo
Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA)

Media Rights Agenda has joined related International rights group calling on governments and public authorities around the world to restore legal and practical processes for accessing information to pre-pandemic levels, stressing that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis should not be used to limit citizens’ right to information.

The groups while making the call on the occasion of the  International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI),  reckoned that transparent and timely sharing of information with the public, on a proactive and reactive basis, was crucial to protecting public health, preventing corruption, safeguarding democratic institutions and improving policy and decision-making.

However, the groups noted that more than six months after the declaration of the pandemic, while many governments have found ways to return to normal operations, freedom of information requests continued to be delayed or refused.

They observed that crucial information about the pandemic and how governments use public funds is not available to the public in many places, a situation which impairs citizens’ rights to access information, participate in public discourse and hold their government accountable.

“In many countries, legitimate public health concerns mean that the rights to assemble and move freely are being curtailed. Other democratic processes such as in-person meetings with and between elected representatives are being restricted. The ability of media and civil society to travel freely to report, document and expose the abuse of power is also being severely reduced. In these circumstances, access to public information becomes even more critical,” the group noted.

The group believed that access to information remains  a key tool for investigative journalists and NGOs to monitor the work of government institutions in the wake of widespread examples of corruption and poor, often non-inclusive, policies undermining COVID-19 responses and recoveries around the world, open and transparent government matters now more than ever. Humanitarian aid and trillions of dollars of emergency financing must not be left open to abuse while citizens remain in the dark about its use and allocation.

According to them “lessons learned from the first six months of the pandemic show that trust in public officials is crucial for effective government-led responses that minimize the impact of COVID-19 on lives and livelihoods. This trust will be lost if governments do not openly share information with citizens, thereby undermining compliance with public health directives and other measures to stop the spread of the disease.”

“Citizens cannot participate in governance without access to information. Access to information is essential for empowering citizens to hold governments accountable. Freedom of press, freedom of expression, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be ensured without access to information.

As countries (re-)introduce restrictions on public life due to COVID-19, preparation for such measures should always include mechanisms to allow the continuation of government functions that are crucial for citizens’ democratic rights. Ensuring the public’s unobstructed access to information of which they are rightful owners must not be overlooked.”

“Governments must immediately restore laws and practical systems for implementing access to information to pre-pandemic levels and improve them in line with international standards and best practice,” – group concluded.

Access Info Europe

Access to information programme, Bulgaria

Andrés Mejía, Lawyer, Colombia

Article 19

Campaign for Freedom of Information

Canadian Association of Journalists

Centre for Law and Democracy

Center for Media Studies &Peace Building, Liberia

ePaństwo Foundation

Freedom of Information Center of Armenia (FOCIA)

Global Forum for Media Development

Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA)

K-Monitor

Media Rights Agenda

mySociety

Privacy and Access Council of Canada

Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association

Sharon Polsky BIS MAPP

Transparency International