The Hawaii-based East-West Center held its 2016 International Media Conference in New Delhi, India, from September 8 to 11, 2016. Themed “South Asia Looking East”, it drew over 350 participants from across Asia and the United States.
On September 11, I moderated a plenary session on Right to Information (RTI) in South Asia: Staying the Course on a Bumpy Road.
It tried to distill key lessons in RTI implementation from India and Pakistan, especially for the benefit of Sri Lanka that has recently adopted its RTI law. Such lessons could also benefit other countries currently advocating their own RTI laws.
Here is the synopsis I wrote for the panel:
Right to Information (RTI) in South Asia:
Staying the Course on a Bumpy Road
In June 2016, Sri Lanka’s Parliament unanimously passed a Right to Information (RTI) Act, making the island nation the 108th country to have a RTI or freedom of information (FOI) law. That leaves only Bhutan in South Asia without such a law, according to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in New Delhi.
Sri Lanka’s RTI law was preceded by over two decades of sustained advocacy by journalists, social activists and progressive lawyers. But the struggle is far from over. The island nation now faces the daunting task of ‘walking the talk’ on RTI, which involves a total reorientation of government and active engagement by citizens. As other South Asian countries know only too well, proper RTI implementation requires political will, administrative support and sufficient funds.
This panel is an attempt to address the following key questions:
- How do India and Pakistan fare in terms of implementing their RTI laws?
- What challenges did they face in the early days of RTI implementation?
- What roles did government, civil society and media play in RTI process?
- What key lessons and cautions can their experiences offer to Sri Lanka?
- Can South Asia’s RTI experience offer hope for other countries pursuing RTI laws of their own?
In this session, experienced RTI activists from India and Pakistan will join a Sri Lankan policymaker in surveying the challenges of openness and transparency through RTI.
- Dr Ranga Kalansooriya, Director General, Department of Information, Ministry of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media, Government of Sri Lanka
- Mr Venkatesh Nayak, RTI activist; Programme Coordinator, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), New Delhi
- Ms Maleeha Hamid SIDDIQUI, Senior Sub-Editor and Reporter, Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan
Moderator: Mr Nalaka Gunawardene, Science writer and media researcher who is secretary of the RTI Advisory Task Force of Ministry of Mass Media, Sri Lanka