This year saw Tunisia celebrate the 28th of September – a day widely recognised as International Right to Know (RTK) Day, otherwise known as the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) – through UNESCO’s flagship event for the occasion: IPDC Talks 2018. The observation of such a day comes as an opportunity to renew our commitment to access to information, and to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The event also served as an opportune occasion to mobilise the international community to discuss and promote media development in developing countries. And where better to host the third-annual IPDC Talks under the theme “Good Laws and Practices for Open Societies: Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information” than in Tunisia where a decade ago, it would have been difficult if not impossible to celebrate and discuss the importance of access to information?
Accountability is a central pillar in the architecture of a healthy democracy. It is essential that people can access a wide range of information available in order to participate effectively in the matters that affect them.
In an era of rapid globalisation growing in tandem with the prevalence of misinformation, it is vital that well-informed, critical citizens stand as the custodians of the transformative power behind democracies, or as was said during the celebration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information by UNESCO: “If information is power, then access to information is empowerment.”
Andrew Jaspan, one of the speakers at the event, rightly noted: “Access to clean information is as important as the right of access to clean water.” Andrew was joined by world-renowned speakers from a range of sectors, who addressed the importance of access to information as pertaining to particular SDGs.
UNESCO hopes that the marking of the day will facilitate more countries adopting freedom of information (FOI) legislation, developing policies for multilingualism and cultural diversity in cyberspace, and ensuring that people with disabilities are integrated.
Keynote speaker and Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman drew attention to the Arab Spring, highlighting that it was not a movement at the end of its line. She said the movement would continue until people win the rights to live in democratic countries in order to live out their hopes and dreams. Ms. Karman called on all governments and their partners to work to include in their constitutions explicit provisions that enhance freedoms of expression, press, information, and peaceful assembly. “There is no democracy without freedom of expression, which begins with the right to access and circulate information,” she said.
Rapid political, technological, and economic transformations in the recent years have placed new strains on the public right to access to information as well as restrictions on those that seek to impart it. Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire elaborated on this issue while advocating for a restoration of balance in our societies, where ordinary citizens and journalists can have access to information and public data.
Andrew Jaspan, Director of the Global Academy pushed for rethinking of journalism models, emphasising the need for information without borders. He also said, “When you speak about the failure of journalism, you don’t speak about the failure of journalists themselves but of the business models that underpin it.”
The day concluded with a wrap-up session with experts on access to information reflecting on the ideas of the day, and creating action points for governments and non-governmental stakeholders. The panel of experts applauded the actors promoting national legislation to ensure access to information, as they were also the ones ensuring access to government information.
Access to information expert and former GFMD programme coordinator, Caroline Giraud, highlighted the importance of improving the legal and regulatory environment that ensures public access to information (SDG 16.10). She also stressed the role of civil society actors in ensuring access to information is protected: “It is imperative that, beyond any government’s work to monitor the implementation of SDGs using an agreed-upon methodology, civil society is involved [as well], and it produces its own shadow report on the advancement of achieving the SDGs.”
Click here to read more about the IPDC Talks, and also see GFMD’s blog post about RTK day. We also encourage you to check out the new SDG 16.10 Resource Centre on our website, which has multiple resources related to access to information and development. Actionable points from the discussions at IPDC Talks will be published soon, and we will keep our network updated about developments in this space.