“Ghana will get a right to information law; the question is when.” UNESCO director for freedom of expression and media development, Guy Berger, made this statement in Accra, Ghana, last Friday.
He was speaking in the aftermath of the global conference for World Press Freedom Day, during which Ghana’s president and minister of information stated that the country would indeed see the passage of delayed legislation.
“Globally, the right to impart information is under stress worldwide, but the right to seek and receive is strengthening,” said Berger to more than 100 Ghanaian political science students at the University of Ghana, Legon.
“Your country is well placed to avoid trends to reduce its performance on imparting information, given your strong press freedom record.
“At the same time, you do have momentum to move forward and join the international trend by passing a Right to Information law.”
Berger urged students to read UNESCO’s new report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development, which highlights current risks and opportunities for people’s rights to free expression and access to information.
The occasion was a public event organized by Media4democracy.eu, the EU Delegation to Ghana and the Centre for European Studies, University of Ghana, and titled: “European and international perspectives on press freedom, freedom of expression and access to information: lessons for Ghana”.
Berger spoke alongside other experts on a panel, including Helen Darbishire of InfoAccess Europe, Gilbert Sendugwa from the African Freedom of Information Centre, Roland Affail Monney of the Ghana Journalists Association, and Seth Abloso of the country’s Right to Information Coalition.
Speakers included Fatou Jagne Senghor, West Africa Director of Article 19 and Paolo Salvia, Acting Head of EU Delegation to Ghana.
“A total of 123 countries worldwide now have Freedom of Information laws,” said Berger. Each of these had wrestled with challenges like narrowly specifying exceptions to disclosure, and assessing the financial costs of implementation. But these countries had overcome these and been able to pass the necessary legislation.
“I encourage Ghana to recognise that a right to information law will end up saving the country money in the medium term, because it entails systems that enable monitoring of how and where public funds are actually spent,” said Berger.
“While there should not be a rush to pass a law, it is also important not to keep on delaying until a perfect bill is reached,” he added.
With an adequate law, said the UNESCO official, it is possible to elaborate on details through developing more specific regulations and to continue adapting them in terms of actual implementational experience.
Berger underlined that the right to seek and receive information, just as the right to impart information, is not a benefit for the media as such. “These are entitlements for every citizen, enabling them to advance democracy and development”.
He urged the students to mark 28 September as the International Day for Universal Access to Information by convening a follow-up event to assess the progress towards Ghana getting own its right to information law.