Speech at round-table meeting: “Media and the law on access to information”

17 Dec 2009

Speaker: Ms. Setsuko Yamazaki, UNDP Country Director.
Date:      17 December 2009
Event:     Round-table meeting: “Media and the law on access to information”

Mr Le Quoc Trung, Standing Vice Chairman of the Viet Nam Journalists Association
Mr Hoang Huu Luong, Director of the Press Department of the Ministry of Communication and Information
Ms Nguyen Kim Thoa of the Ministry of Justice
UN Colleagues, Friends from the media, Ladies and gentlemen,

Access to information is good for Viet Nam - its development and its people.  The media and yourselves are a very powerful force for positive change and advancement of society’s values and goals. President Triet said earlier this year that the “Press is responsible for discovering and reporting instantly good deeds and successful examples and models in production as well as bringing to light negative cases such as corruption and wastefulness.”

We can probably all think of examples in which the media, through sharing important information with the public, contributed to improved laws and regulations and improved understanding of social issues, the halting of illegal activities or corruption, or more progressive attitudes towards certain groups, such as people living with HIV.  All of this contributes to a higher quality of life for Vietnamese citizens. 

A few recent cases include a series of articles on the fight against illegal coal mining in Quang Ninh by two journalists from the Labour newspaper; a radio report on a new model of agricultural production by three Voice of Viet Nam reporters; and a TV report alterting the public about the problem of child abuse produced by two journalists from the provincial Dong Nai Radio and Television service.

I know there are many other examples but the important principle is that journalists and others working for improved social and economic development need access to information.
Indeed the well known Vietnamese phrase “people know, people discuss, people do and people verify” summarizes the importance of access to information in modern societies. It is only with accurate information that citizens can fulfil these four tasks – tasks that are vital to Viet Nam’s development.  In this regard, we appreciate the VJA’s efforts to strengthen media development in Viet Nam and we are glad to contribute by facilitating this discussion today.

Now is a critical time to address this issue because Viet Nam is about to transition from a low-income to a middle-income country. The experience of others countries shows that as citizens become better fed and better educated, they demand more efficient and higher quality administrative services from the Government.

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.

As a partner in Viet Nam’s development, the UN, particularly UNDP, is working to support enhanced access to information through improving the enabling legal and regulatory environment; strengthening the capacity of an independent media; enhancing the capacity of civil society to raise awareness of the right to information; and promoting communication mechanisms that enable marginalized groups to participate effectively in governance processes.

For instance, UNDP supported policy research on “Media and Corruption”, piloted training on Investigative Journalism with nearly 80 journalists; supported the access to information law drafting team; and, provided orientation on climate change for journalists.

In promoting access to information, I would like to stress that special consideration is needed for those who are poor, vulnerable and frequently excluded from mainstream governance processes and institutions as a result of poor access to information and communication support.  Thse groups often lack information that is vital to their lives – information on basic rights and entitlements, public services, health, education, work opportunities, public expenditure budgets, etc. They also lack visibility and voice to enable them to define and influence policy priorities and access resources. This is where the media can play a particularly valuable role. 

Gender is also a critical consideration in access to information. Men and women may have different information needs and better gender-disaggregated data is required for effective actions.
In conclusion, let me emphasize that from the perspective of the UN, the right to freedom of expression and the right to information are prerequisites for ensuring the voice and participation necessary for open and modern societies. This means that both access to information itself and flows of information between constituents – men and women, government, parliament, media organizations, community groups, civil society organizations and the private sector – are of equal importance, and need to be protected and promoted. 

I have seen the good work of many journalists in Viet Nam, and I am confident that with the right environment and supportive legal framework, the media will increasingly contribute to a more equitable and prosperous Viet Nam.

I look forward to the rest of today’s presentations and discussions.

Thank you.