Experts from Mongolia, Lebanon, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia shared their experience and knowledge concerning access to information, including the challenges they faced in implementing it on the ground, at the Open Talks event that was jointly organized by the Ministry of Communication and Multimedia of Malaysia and UNESCO.
H.E. Mr Gobind Singh Deo, the Minister for Communication and Multimedia of Malaysia, officially opened the event. In his remarks, he reiterated the government’s commitment in ensuring freedom of expression and further stressed that this right “cannot be exercised effectively and may not bring any benefit to any of us if society does not have adequate access to information.”
Mr Stefan Priesner, the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Malaysia, and Mr Moez Chakchouk, the Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information of UNESCO, who spoke in the opening session, highlighted the importance of access to information in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Access to information is crucial in improving transparency and reducing corruption, in empowering people to obtain information that is vital for education, health, business, and many other areas. Without access to quality information, participatory democracy would not be able to function optimally.
The other speakers of the event, Ms Khashkuu ‘Naraa’ Naranjargal, the President and CEO of Globe International Center from Mongolia, firmly believed that “Access to information can change lives.”
In essence, “Access to information is about how we can live our lives better,” said Ms Gayathry Venkiteswaran, an Assistant Professor on Media and Politics at the University of Nottingham Malaysia. Therefore, “National authorities should proactively release quality information but, at the same time, the people must continue to ask for information and exercise their right to information,” added Ms Venkiteswaran.
Other speakers of the Open Talks included Mr Bayu Wardhana from Alliance of Independent Journalists of Indonesia, Mr Louis Liaw, an advocate and solicitor who worked on the drafting of the Malaysian access to information law, and Mr Simon Kemp who is the CEO and Founder of Kepios.com.
The Open Talks in Kuala Lumpur is the first in a series of global events that are taking place around the world to commemorate the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) which falls on 28 September of each year. This year Open Talks in Malaysia was held in conjunction with the Next Big Tech Asia Conference.
UNESCO is the United Nations specialized agency with the mandate to promote freedom of expression as well as access to information. It is also tasked as the custodian agency that monitors and reports on the progress of access to information as part of its contribution towards the Sustainable Development Goal 16 where access to information is one of the indicators. Since 2016, UNESCO has been leading the global commemoration of the IDUAI to raise awareness of the importance of access to information.