Sanctions needed to realize citizens' right to information

17 Dec 2009

Strong sanctions against the delay or refusal to provide information are necessary to ensure the media can fulfil its responsibility to facilitate access to information for citizens. This was the consensus among more than 40 editors-in-chief and representatives of relevant Vietnamese government agencies who attended a roundtable meeting on Media and Access to Information in Ha Noi.

With the support of the United Nations in Viet Nam, the Viet Nam Journalists’ Association and the Ministry of Information and Communications jointly organized the roundtable meeting to get comments and recommendations from the media on the draft Law on Access to Information, which is scheduled to be submitted to the National Assembly in May 2010. Also present were representatives from the British and Swedish Embassies as well as the World Bank.

“Now is a critical time to discuss access to information because Viet Nam is about to transit from a low-income to a middle-income country,” said Ms Setsuko Yamazaki, UNDP Country Director, in her opening remarks. “Certainly the current process of drafting and discussing a draft Access to Information Law in Viet Nam can be seen as a positive indication of the goodwill and determination of the Vietnamese Government to improve transparency in the public sector.  Speeding up the drafting process would bring the benefits to society sooner rather than later.”

Discussion focused on the need to promulgate the Law on Access to Information soon as well as the special role of the media in relation to this law – which includes both access to information by the media as well as their responsibility to facilitate citizen’s access to information. Participants also expressed concern over the enforcement of the law, including the capacity of staff in relevant public agencies to process, manage and disseminate information.

Mr. Le Quoc Trung, Standing Vice Chairman of Viet Nam Journalist Association, noted that the “Mass media is an important channel for the people to realize their right to information. This is the largest ‘door’ for the people to access information. However, it is generally difficult for the media to access official information due to many reasons, including the fact that some individuals intentionally hide information for their own organizational or individual benefit.”

After analyzing different articles of the draft Law on Access to Information, Mr Huu Tho, former Editor-in-chief of Nhan Dan newspaper, emphasized the need to have regulations on a monitoring mechanism, and sanctions against delay or denial by public agencies to provide information. “There can be hundreds of reasons to delay the provision of information for the people or the media, so it is not possible to use internal monitoring mechanisms. There should be a more feasible mechanism,” Mr Huu Tho said.

The UN supported the meeting with a view to contributing to more transparency and media development in Viet Nam. The UN has previously supported policy research on the topic of media and corruption, piloted training on investigative journalism with nearly 80 journalists, and supported the Access to Information Law drafting team.
Photo: Deputy Editor-in-chief of Labor Newspaper Mr. Vu Manh Cuong