Right to Information law not for media alone – Coalition

Ms. Mina Mensah
Ms. Mina Mensah

A right to information activist says parliament’s delay in passing the Right to Information Bill for Ghanaian citizens may be due to politicians’ misconstruing of the law as one for the media and their fear that it will give too much power to the media.

Ms Mina Mensah, the Regional Coordinator of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and a leading member of Ghana’s Right to Information Coalition, suggested politicians often erroneously perceive the right to information law as one for the media and not the entire citizenry.

“A lot of them see it as a media law and not a law for the citizens. We need to debunk that,” the activist said at a public lecture and forum on the role of Right to Information in promoting transparency and informed choices in a democracy.

She noted that even without the law, the Ghanaian media was doing well in exposing corruption and holding leadership to account.

Ms Mensah recalled that when President John Mahama was interviewed by Deutsche Welle TV’s Tim Sebastain, the president’s defense to the long delay in passing the Right to Information Bill was that media pluralism was high in Ghana and the media landscape was very free.

The forum which was to launch World Press Freedom Day 2016 (May 3), was expecting the presence of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong and the Majority Leader Mr Alban Bagbin, but none of them showed up, leaving it to the Right to Information Coalition, the National Media Commission, Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and the media.

GJA Vice President Mathias Tibu said passage of the bill had become more urgent following the recent High Court ruling against the Attorney General and the former Transport Minister, to disclose the controversial bus branding contract between government and Smartty’s Productions.

Kwasi Gyan Apenteng - Chairman, NMC
Kwasi Gyan Apenteng – Chairman, NMC

The Chairman of the National Media Commission (NMC), Mr Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, suggested that beyond the traditional provisions of Right to Information, new trends in open governance be considered in Ghana such as opening procurement and bidding processes to the media and the citizenry.

“Government agencies are performing on our behalf. If that is the case, then it should be normal to share information with us, but we don’t get that.”

“We need the right to information law to encourage journalists and society to question how we are governed and how our national resources are used. It will promote fairness, accountability and social justice while being a cornerstone in the fight against corruption,” he said.

The NMC chair said while some aspects of public work must reasonably be kept out of the public domain, openness and not secrecy should be the default position and standard operating principle of government.

By Emmanuel Odonkor

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