Dr. Md. Aliur Rahman
Right to know, among all other rights, is the foremost right. It is their basic human rights too as every citizen has the right to know all kinds of information and decisions that can affect their lives. Journalists and media have been playing a leading role in fulfilling the right to know on behalf of the citizen.
Journalists, as the representatives of citizens, gather news mainly for those citizens and work as the communication activists to uphold their rights. As a global profession, the ideal purpose of journalism is to publish an event illuminated in the light of the information digging out the truths through proper investigation.
The most accomplished, glorious and risky responsibility of journalism realm is investigation. For this reason, the study of investigative journalism is closely related to implementation of right to information and access to information. Against this backdrop, the aim of this article is to make a simple focus on the functionality of the Right to Information (RTI) act in journalists' access to information and in their practices for investigative journalism.
Investigative journalism is a kind of information-exploration process wherein the attempt goes continue to open the close-door and unuttered-mouth of information aiming an extravagant effort for the objective news. This is such a public interest-based reporting process, which can be used to expose public mishaps as well as to expose masks of corruption for public welfare.
However, investigative journalism is not an easy task. In this process, a journalist may have to wait for years to get about specific information, especially on the issues of public-interest. As a result, investigating journalists often have to face various obstacles, risks, and insecurities while collecting related objective information or news.
The main principle of investigative journalism is to unveil any public interest information or reveal such truths that are beneficial to the people who have been kept hidden intentionally from the public. An investigative journalist has to run behind the news for a long time despite being it a risky task.
In this scenario, the task will be easier if the RTI Act is in place. The effective use of the Act can increase the quality of information and acceptance of news in terms of labor, time and objectivity. Using the act, the journalists and media can get great benefit to proof the fact that the citizen is the real owner of the Republic. The ultimate goal of transparency, accountability and good governance can be achieved in this way.
It has been proved in a higher-level research that the RTI Act is very much helpful for investigative journalism. An analysis of the field survey of a Ph.D. research under the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism in Dhaka University found that 72 percent respondents and journalists think that "Right to Information Act is helpful in bringing transparency and accountability to public and private sectors." 57 percent of the respondents believe that the RTI Act is very helpful for journalists and researchers.
At the same time, it is noted that most of the journalists believe that the RTI Act cannot play a role in daily reporting. But this act can play an active role in investigative journalism. It is also revealed in the survey that journalists can play an important role in implementing the RTI Act through the practice of investigative reporting using the law.
It is also found in the research findings that RTI Act is very much helpful for collecting information and reporting and it is possible to get adequate benefits in investigative journalism if the RTI Act is implemented effectively.
The RTI Act is the only law through which the journalists can explore many unknown and serious corruption-irregularities. In many cases, journalists may have to face harassment and mischief while attempting to collect information using the traditional ways of journalism. Good results can be found, if they try to collect the same information applying under the RTI Act.
Using Right to Information Act, the journalists can report in-depth, especially investigative reporting on topics related to public-interest such as reporting on accountable actions of the government, semi-government, non-governmental organizations including the government's procurement, as well as corruption of emergency services, land acquisition, murder and important issues including human rights.
Besides, in some stories, 'seeking anonymity/asking not to be named'- is cited considering the sensitive of the events as the sources may face untoward situation if their identities are disclosed. Despite the fact that the information is correct, the acceptability or authenticity of the news stories will be in question only due to the undisclosed sources. But if we are able to collect the same information using the RTI Act, there will be no problem regarding the authenticity.
To protect the newsmen from self-defense and to protect the source, tendency of giving wrong information to the readers is noticed often. In such a case, the source of information can be cited properly and reliably by applying the RTI Act and there is no need to use 'asking not to be named'.
The main purpose of journalism is to present the news by self-employing as a professional information activist for the welfare of the society, the state and the people. And the implementation objective of the Right to Information Act is inherently co-related to the fundamental purpose of journalism and freedom of the press. In the Right to Information Act, 2009, failing to provide any information related to public interest, to abstain, denial from giving information or to hide information is considered as an offense.
Hence, the RTI Act and investigative journalism are helpful and complementary to flourish democratic culture and creating the way to freedom of expression, it is high time to establish transparency, accountability and good governance throughout our state life by implementing the RTI Act in investigation journalism more effectively.
Dr. Aliur Rahman is the first researcher in Bangladesh who is conferred a Ph.D Degree on research related to RTI Act. At present, He is the Chairperson of the Dept. of Media and Communication in Green University of Bangladesh
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