A Freedom of Information Act would be welcome
Stabroek News
November 29, 2001

Dear Editor,

It was quite refreshing to read your editorial of Monday, November 26, "Time ripe for a Freedom of Information Act." [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] I can only hope that your call, even though it seemed to be prompted by a recent, similar move in Jamaica, will resonate with both the government and other media houses in Guyana.

Your edifying assessment of what passes for information dissemination in Guyana by government functionaries, puts into perspective the source of the bulk of information in Guyana. This is largely because there are not that many other major institutions, independent of government, which are responsible for generating volumes of information worthy of daily news reports. But there still are a few.

That then raises the question: since government is not the only source of information that can be converted to news, what other organisations and institutions will fall within the purview of the Freedom of Information Act?

The editorial's distinction between government's attempts at openness via increased numbers of ministers' press briefings and the need for media practitioners to go beyond a minister's blunt and uncompromising refusal to divulge information, is extremely critical to fostering responsible journalism.

Very few ordinary Joes and Janes bother to examine how their daily lives are influenced or are affected based on the daily news, taking this commodity for granted. Yet, it is the tenacious, conscientious journalist who can make a difference by not merely reporting "as is," but ferreting out the root cause, the effects, the reactions, and the possible recurrences or prevention.

And given the information technology age in which Guyana finds itself, the timeliness and accuracy of most hard decisions depend on readily available and accurate information that may make the news. Timeliness and accuracy are just as crucial to the integrity of a transparent government.

That is why, if Guyana ever follows Jamaica's lead, it would do well to reduce the layers of enforcement bodies that a media house or practitioner or ordinary citizen should have to deal with in pursuit of previously refused information. Once there is a law, the court becomes the first resort with the sitting judge perusing the same information before making a decision to reveal or to seal.

Having said all of that, I still commend the government for at least making the effort to put a human face on what once passed for press releases and news bulletins.

Should government seriously consider your editorial's call, it may want to ensure all its operatives are au fait not only with the new development, but actual developments under their supervision and to be able to provide timely and accurate information, particularly during the questioning session at press briefings.

The editorial did mention the role of the Media Association of Jamaica in the Jamaica's F.I.A, so I wonder if there is a sister organisation in Guyana and what role it can play, with input from its members, in making the F.I.A a reality in Guyana?

Yours faithfully,

Emile Mervin