March 13, 2017
Bangladesh’s RTI Act of 2009 has opened up opportunities for the journalists to gather information from authorities to develop in-depth and investigative reports for the media. Speakers opined this at a workshop on the “Value and Use of RTI in Media” in Dhaka today.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Management & Resources Development Initiative (MRDI) jointly organized the workshop The workshop sought to help Bangladeshi media understand and effectively use the Right to Information (RTI) Act to hold authorities accountable and enhance media reportage on critical issues.
Among those who spoke at the program were Mahfuz Anam, Editor, The Daily Star; Sanjoy Hazarika, Director, CHRI; Dr. Shamsul Bari Chairman, Research Initiatives Bangladesh; Shyamlal Yadav, Senior Editor, The Indian Express; Venkatesh Nayak , Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, CHRI; Maja Daruwala, Senior Advisor, CHRI and Hasibur Rahman, Executive Director of MRDI. The session was moderated by Syed Ishtiaque Reza, Director, News and Current Affairs, Ekattor TV.
In his opening remarks, Mahfuz Anam described media as an influential social force that kept people informed and alerted the government and other authorities to key issues, saying, “RTI takes information from the powerful and gives it to the powerless, that is its strength.” He added that journalists needed to use “the gift” of the RTI much more effectively in Bangladesh.
Highlighting the importance of Freedom of Expression, Sanjoy Hazarika urged journalists to report news accurately and objectively, without fear or favour. “It is what shapes the fabric of our daily lives, information is the oxygen we breathe,” he said.
The highlight of the workshop was a presentation by pioneering Indian journalist Shyamlal Yadav whose pathbreaking investigative stories drew enormous interest and questions from the participants. His experiences included extracting information about the international travel expenses of Indian Cabinet Ministers to bank scandals, extensive phone tapping and how Parliament funds were used by members of parliament to give jobs to their own kin. His reports led to major changes on all these fronts and participants described his role as “inspirational”.
Maja Daruwala underscored the importance of RTI law to strengthen investigative reporting. She also noted that journalists should be able to learn the art of drafting questions in such a way that the stories which emerged were accurate, authentic and do not have a shelf life. Dr. Shamsul Bari explained how NGO’s in the country were using RTI laws on various issues. He asserted that reporters should not only file stories based on data they receive through RTI, but also report information received by NGOs through RTI as well. He said that NGOs and journalists should work together and share data they receive through RTI so that collected information remains constantly in the news.
Venkatesh Nayak, a leading Indian RTI activist undertook an exercise on drafting RTI applications. Hasibur Rahman, in his address of welcome said that the accuracy of information has been up to the mark when the facts are derived through the RTI Act confirming the authenticity.
Thirty four newsroom managers and journalists from in and outside Dhaka participated in the day long workshop with an objective to interact on the value of RTI and encourage media to use the law as a professional tool to improve reporting; advocate with the media to open “RTI Beat” in their news bureau and popularize the use of RTI amongst Bangladesh media and the civil society.