BIFD-NED workshop calls for full implementation of FOIA
QUETTA, APRIL 28, 2010:
Journalists from different districts of Balochistan have appealed to the government to ensure the smooth implementation of the Freed of Information Act (FOIA 2002) for the provision of accurate information to every citizen of the country, including the journalists, in order to improve the quality of journalism in the country.
Journalists hailing from print and electronic media organizations in fifteen different districts of Balochistan discussed in detail the Freedom of Information Act (2002) in a three-day long workshop on “Media, Democracy and Human Rights”. The workshop was organized by Balochistan Institute for Future Development (BIFD) with the collaboration of the United States-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) at Quetta Press Club.
Speaking to the participating journalists, Malik Siraj Akbar, project director of BIFD, said Pakistan was the first South Asian country to opt for legislation concerning the freedom of information by promulgating Freedom of Information Act (2002) while Balochistan enacted its freedom of information act on November 27, 2005 to become the first province in the country to do so.
However, multiple factors, such as public ignorance about the FOIA and lack of cooperation by the government departments under varying pretexts, hindered the proper implementation of the FOIA in Balochistan.
“Access to information is the basic right of every citizen of the state. At least 90 countries in the world have legislated on freedom of information. Eight years since the adoption of the FOIA in Pakistan, this legislation has not benefited the masses yet. There is an urgent need for the government to address the gray areas in the act in order to make it easy for the people to access government information,” he said.
Under the Freedom of Information Act 2002, every citizen of the country is entitled to have access to all official information by submitting a form with the concerned government department. Barring a few exceptions, the department is legally bound to provide the requested information within 21 days. In case of refusal by the government authorities to share information, the applicant can complain with the Ombudsman against the lack of cooperation.
“The FOIA can be greatly helpful to the journalists if they try to aggressively use their right to information and push for official information to be used in their stories,” he said.
Senior journalist Siddiq Baluch spoke to the participating journalists on media and government relations by saying that the media in Balochistan had been strictly controlled since the colonial rule. Journalists working in the province had to face official threats, intimidation from local tribal chiefs and other pressure groups who wanted to dictate journalists’ professional works.
Baz Mohammad Kakar, President of Balochistan Bar Association, who spoke on the role of the media in the judicial movement, said both the judiciary and the media simultaneously struggled for their liberation against dictatorship. Had the media not supported the lawyers’ movement, former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf would never be dislodged from this undemocratic seat.
It was the first time in the history of Balochistan that district correspondents were introduced with modern journalistic tools such as the use of internet, creating blogs, integrating stories on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The workshop participants were instructed how to create their own blogs so that stories from remote areas which do not qualify for publication in the mainstream press reach a wider audience.
“I feel like reinventing myself after attending this workshop,” said Javeria Tareen, a participant of the three-day workshop, “I have learnt how to cover human rights issues and target a larger audience.”
Karachi-based journalist Rahma Mohammad spoke on forms of media and covering human rights issues in the media.
Participants of the workshop visited the Balochistan Assembly where they were briefed by the deputy secretary, Mohammad Azam Davi, about the history and functions of the Balochistan Assembly.
They also saw the recently developed media-center of the Balochistan Assembly which has been established by a USAID grant to provide better facilities to reporters who cover the proceedings of the Balochistan Assembly.
Senior journalist Saleem Shahid, who distributed certificates among the participants of the workshop, spoke on the role of the district correspondents in covering human rights issues. He urged them to avoid reporting hastily but to concentrate on fact-checking because a journalist’s credibility, he said, entirely hinged on the accuracy of facts mentioned in his report.
Saleem Shahid, Quetta Bureau Chief of Dawn, speaking on reporting on human rights issues by the district correspondents
The workshop was attended by the following journalists:
It was the second workshop held by BIFD and NED for the journalists of Balochistan. The second event provided a chance to the reporters from the districts which were not represented in the previous workshop.