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An estimated 5-minute read

The Legality and the Reality - Role of Media and The Right to Information

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The Right to information Act, 2005 (“the Act”), which came fully into effect on 12 October, 2005,is one of the most significant legislation enacted by the Parliament of India. The Act enables the establishment of an unprecedented regime of right to information for the citizens of the country. It overrides the ‘Official Secrets Act’ and similar laws/rules. It strikes at the heart of the paradigm long practiced by Government officials and public functionaries that ‘confidentiality is the rule and disclosure is an exception’. The Act seeks to establish that “transparency is the norm and secrecy is an exception” in the working of every public authority. It aims to ensure maximum openness and transparency in the machinery and functioning of Government at all levels: Central, State and Local.


The Press Council on March 2001, had stated that the Right to Information Legislation as very vital for the media. It stated that- “ At present, one of the stumbling blocks in the path of investigative, analytical and popular journalism is the difficulty in getting access to the official information. The bureaucracy, the police the army, judiciary and even the legislature guard information regarding even the most mundane subjects with astonishing zeal. Few journalists are able to break this iron curtain of the official non-cooperation. The right to Information will encourage journalists and society at large to be more questioning about the state of affairs and will be powerful tool to check the unmitigated goings-on in the public realm and will also promoter accountability. No longer will scribes have to depend on conjecture, rumour, leaks and sources other than knowledgeable sources. The legislation when enacted will pose an antidote to vested interests which try to conceal or misinterpret information or which try to manipulate media directly or indirectly to plant misinformation. Through this legislation, transparency in public, professional, social and personal sphere can be achieved.”            

It is really surprising that such an accurate evaluation by the Press Council was not give any importance by most of the media. The media could not even find time to welcome the implementation of the Information Act officially. This was just believed to be the matters related to the farmers of Rajasthan and of the people of the slums of Delhi or thought as the matter related to the NGO type people. Its use was far away from question. It was completely ignored by the media. While, on the other hand few people who used it as a weapon in journalism had an interesting experience and showed new path as well.

Under section 19(1) (a) of the Indian constitution, the citizens of India have been given the right to freedom of speech and expression. But without access to information, this right was incomplete. Right to receive and right to impart information have been held to be a part of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by sub-clause (a) of clause (1) of Article 19 of the Constitution subject of course to the reasonable restrictions, if any, that may be placed on such right in terms of and to the extent permitted by clause (2) of the said Article. It has been held by the Supreme Court in Secretary, Ministry of I & B, Government of India v Cricket Association of Bengal ((1995) 2 SCC 161) that: “The freedom of speech and expression includes right to acquire information and to disseminate it. Freedom of speech and expression is necessary, for self-expression which is an important means of free conscience and self-fulfillment. It enables people to contribute to debates on social and moral issues. It is the best way to find a truest model of anything, since it is only through it that the widest possible range of ideas can circulate. It is the only vehicle of political discourse so essential to democracy. Equally important is the role it plays in facilitating artistic and scholarly endeavors of all sorts. The right to communicate, therefore, includes right to communicate through any media that is available whether print or electronic or audio-visual such as advertisement, movie, article, speech, etc. That is why freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of the press. The freedom of the press in turn includes right to circulate and also to determine the volume of such circulation. This freedom includes the freedom to communicate or circulate one’s opinion without interference to as large a population in the country, as well as abroad, as is possible to reach.”

In ‘The Cricket Association of Bengal’ case,
it was held that the right to impart and receive information from electronic media is a part of the right to freedom of speech and expression.In Bennett Coleman, the right to information was held to be included within the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article19 (1) (a).· In Raj Narain , the Court explicitly stated: ‘The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearings.

Evaluation of the public authorities and the governance is impossible without factual, current/updated and primary information.  The public authorities always kept guard on each information. The tragedy was that the bureaucrats were having the weapon of Officials Secret Act, which played over the right of speech and expression, and the some constraints lay down by the constitution. Therefore, the rights of the citizens remained confined. Similarly, the judiciary has the Contempt of Court provisions and the legislature have the parliamentary privileges. It was impossible for the journalist to go into the depth of any matter properly under these constraints. Now, with the legislation of the Right to Information, it has become a tremendous weapon for the common people and the media as well.

Wide Scope of RTI

The government was forced to withdraw its decision of privatizing the Delhi Jal Board. This is one of the major achievements of Right to Information. This episode has cleared as to how the government bent before the World Bank to fulfill the interests of the multinational companies. The workers of Right to Information evaluated the documents containing more than four thousand pages carefully and exposed a frightening truth. This is an example for the media to learn and understand it. The media may hardly have its own such example. 

In 1998, secretly the privatization of the Delhi Jal Board was started with the help of the World Bank. The Parivartan’s team scrutinized the documents, which contained more than four thousand pages, carefully. The facts indicated a frightening truth. It was revealed that in order to provide the tender to the multinational company Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) the World Bank had forced the Delhi Jal Board and the Delhi government to agree on disgraceful terms. Other concerning facts also came out. The cost of the water would have risen by six times if this plan has been implemented. The water would have been provided to only those areas were people would voluntarily agree to lay down the pipelines at their own expense.

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