Mass media is a term used to denote a section of the media specifically envisioned and designed to reach a very large audience such as the population of a nation state. It was coined in the 1920s with the advent of nationwide radio networks, mass-circulation newspapers and magazines although mass media was present centuries before the term became common. The term public media has a similar meaning: it is the sum of the public mass distributors of news and entertainment across mediums such as newspapers, television, radio, broadcasting which require union membership in large markets such as Newspaper Guild and AFTRA, & text publishers The concept of mass media is complicated in some internet media as now individuals have a means of potential exposure on a scale comparable to what was previously restricted to select group of mass media producers. These internet media can include television, personal web pages, nod casts and bogs.

The communications audience has been viewed by some commentators as forming a mass society with special characteristics, notably atomization or lack of social connections, which render it especially susceptible to the influence of modern mass-media techniques such as advertising and propaganda The term “MSM” or “mainstream media” has been widely used in the photosphere in discussion of the mass media and media bias.

History of Mass Media & Right to Information

Types of drama in numerous cultures were probably the first mass-media, going back into the Ancient World. The first dated printed book known is the “Diamond Sutra”, printed in China in 868 Al), although it is clear that books were printed earlier. Movable clay type was invented in 1041 in China. However, due to the slow spread of literacy to the masses in China, and the relatively high cost of paper there, the earliest printed mass- medium was probably European popular prints from about 1400. Although these were produced in huge numbers, very few early examples survive, and even most known to be printed before about 1600 have not survived. Johannes Gutenberg printed the first book on a printing press with movable type in 1453. This invention transformed the way the world received printed materials, although books remained too expensive really to be called a mass-medium for at least a century after that.

Newspapers developed around from 1612, with the first example in English in 1620 1 but they took until the nineteenth century to reach a mass-audience directly.

During the 20th century, the growth of mass media was driven by technology that allowed the massive duplication of material. Physical duplication technologies such as printing record pressing and film duplication allowed the duplication of books, newspapers and movies at low prices to huge audiences. Radio and television allowed the electronic duplication of information for the first time.

Mass media had the economics of linear replication: a single work could make money proportional to the number of copies sold, and as volumes went up, unit’s costs went down, increasing profit margins further. Vast fortunes were to be made in mass media. In a democratic society, independent media serve to educate the public/electorate about issues regarding government and corporate entities (see Media influence) Some consider the concentration of media ownership to be a grave threat to democracy.

In 1989, after the end of the Cold War, UNESCO further strengthened its commitments to freedom of the press. To this end, UNESCO organized in all regions of the world a series of seminars on freedom of the press, independent and pluralistic media which led to the adoption of key reference texts. These texts were subsequently endorsed by all Member States.

Since the adoption of the New Communication Strategy by the General Conference in 1989, UNESCO has contributed to a wider recognition and public awareness of the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of information as a fundamental human right.

Through the five regional seminars on promoting independent and pluralist media held between 1991 and 1997, the Organization has played a key role in raising awareness among media professionals and decision- makers of the importance of these principles, as well as in elaborating specific action to address the particular needs of each region. The declarations and plans of action emerging from the regional seminars have provided a unique guiding framework for UNESCO’s action aimed at building        a democratic media environment.

The Organization has also continuously provided assistance to media organizations in setting up legal statutes to ensure independent flow of information, editorial independence, financial autonomy and safety of media professionals.

In this subcontinent, which now compromises Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, the name Mr. James Augustus Hicky is remembered as the founder of newspaper. Mr. Hicy used to introduce himself as “the Printer to the Honorable Company”, i.e. the East India Company. Two-sheet newspaper, Bengal Gazette or Calcutta General Adviser, criticized the servants of the East India Company in abusive language. He did not even spare Warren Hasting — the Governor General – and his wife. Of course, he had to suffer a lot his abusive criticism of the company servants published in his newspaper. He was deprived of the privilege of circulating his newspaper through the General Post Office, He was also prosecuted in a number of liberal cases.

For a long time there was no or regulation in respect of publishing newspapers. It was in 1799 that regulations were first made asking the newspaper to print the names of the publisher and the editor and to submit the printing materials for a prior scrutiny. Deportation was made the punishment for violation of the regulation. But Lord Hasting abolished the pre-censorship and made the editor liable for any publication found injurious to the public interest or affecting the authority of the Government.

In the early 1940s, there was the August movement of 1942 in India and also the mass uprising in 1945 and 1946 against British imperialism, which encouraged the press to be more vocal and free. After the partition of India, although it was expected that the press would enjoy more freedom, in fact, the press of Pakistan in the late 1940s was pro- Government. In 1965, the Pakistan government promulgated The Defenses Pakistan Ordinance restricting the freedom of the press together. The Daily Ittefaq, the New Nation Press were penalized for criticizing the Government. The History of media law traces was introduced to protect the interest of the British rulers and thereafter, the Pakistan rulers. In Bangladesh, the situation is no better as will appear from the passages that follow.

Concept of Mass Media

Present Mass Media Laws Constitutional Provision

The fundamental right of a citizen is granted in his constitution of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh. Freedom of the press is also a fundamental right of a citizen. Article 26 of the Constitution made all existing laws inconsistent with the provision of the fundamental rights void. Any person or citizen aggrieved as a result of an infringement of any fundamental right may seek remedy before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court under Article 102(l) of the Constitution. Article 102 of the Constitution provides the means of enforcement of the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution. Of the articles, the most important one touching the press is Article 39. Article 39 of the Constitution run as follows:


(1) Freedom of thought and conscience is guaranteed.

(2) Subject to any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the interest of the society of State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence-

(a) The right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression;

(b) Freedom of the press is guaranteed.

Mass media can be used for various purposes:

  • Advocacy both for business and social concerns. This can include advertising, marketing, propaganda, public relations and political communication.
  • Enrichment and education
  • Entertainment traditionally through performances of acting, music and sports along with light reading; since the late 20th century also through video and computer games
  • Journalism news and bogging.
  • Public service announcements
  • Claimed negative characteristics of mass media
  • Another description of Mass Media is central media which implies:
  • An inability to transmit tacit knowledge (or perhaps it can only transfer bad tacit). Corporate propaganda.
  • The manipulation of large groups of people through media outlets, for the benefit of a particular political party andlor group of people.
  • Marshall Mcbuhan one of the biggest critics in media’s history, brought up the idea that “the medium is the message.”
  • Bias, political or otherwise, towards favoring a certain individual, outcome or resolution of an event

This view of central media can be contrasted with lateral media such as email networks, where messages are all slightly different and spread by a process of lateral diffusion

Electronic media and print media include:

  • Broadcasting in the narrow sense, for radio and television
  • Various types of discs or tape In the 20th century, these were mainly used for music. Video and computer uses followed.
  • Film most often used for entertainment, but also for documentaries
  • Video games which have developed into a mass form of media since cutting-edge devices such as the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and jj broadened their use.

Concept of Right to Information

Definition of Information:

The Act defines information in sec. 2(f) as any material in any form, including the records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, log books, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material hold in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any law for the time being in force. Sec. 2(i) defines the word ‘record’ as including

(a) any document, manuscript and ifie,

(b) any microfilm, microfiche and facsimile copy of a document,

(c) any reproduction of image or images embodied in such microfilm and

(d) any other material produced by a computer or any other device.

Definition of Right to Information:

The “right to information” is defined in sec. 2

(j) as a right to information accessible under the Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes a right to (i) inspection of work, documents, records,

(ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records,

(iii) taking separate samples of material,

(iv) obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device.

‘Information’ as a term has been derived from the Latin words ‘Formation’ and ‘Forma’ which means giving shape to something and forming a pattern, respectively?

Information adds something new to our awareness and removes the vagueness of our ideas.

Information is Power, and as the Prime Minister Atal Behan Vajpayee stated, the Government wants to share power with the humblest; it wants to empower the weakest. It is precisely because of this reason that the Right to Information has to be ensured for all.

The Freedom of Information Bill 2000 introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 2000 says that:

(a) Information means any material in any form relating to the administration, operations or decisions of a public authority;

(b) The bill defines public authority as any authority or body established or constituted,

  1. by or under the Constitution,
  2. by any law made by the appropriate Government,

iii. And includes any other body owned, controlled or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate Government.

(c) Freedom of information means the right to obtain information from any public authority by means of:

  1. inspection, taking of extracts and notes,
  2. Certified copies of any records of such public authority and

iii. Diskettes, floppies or in any other electronic mode or through print-outs where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device.

It will be interesting to mention that Press Council of India prepared a draft Bifi in 1996 to make a provision for securing right to information. This draft Bill was named Right to Information Bill, 1996. The Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad also prepared a bill in 1997. Both the bills initiated a national debate on the issue of Effective and Responsive Administration. The Govt. of India appointed a working group on January 2, 1997. The terms of reference of the Working Group included the examination of feasibility and need to introduce a full fledged Right to Information Bill. This group recommended that legislation in this regard is not only feasible but is also vitally necessary. The Working Group recommended that the bill should be named as Freedom of Information Bill as the Right to Information has already been judicially recognized as a part of the fundamental right to free speech and expression.

Relation Between mass media and right to information:

Mass Media and Social Movements

Social movements come and go, represent all manner of political beliefs, and aim to achieve their political objectives by influencing a particular target group’s opinion. Some groups reach out directly to just a few key decision makers or constituencies, while others act more indirectly by broadcasting their message to as wide an audience as possible.

Writing in 1993, Wiffiam Gamson and Gadi Wolfsfeld suggested that social movements rely on the media for three main services, (1) mobilization of political support, (2) legitimization (or validation) in the mainstreams discourse, and (3) to broaden the scope of conflicts. Iii Consequently, the quality and nature of the media coverage that social movements obtain strongly influences how they are perceived in the public eye — to the extent that good or bad coverage can help to make or break a social movement.

Social movements that are long lived and effectively institutionalized within society, tend not to challenge the status quo directly, and so consequently are less dependent on media coverage for their survival.

However, media coverage may be crucial for other, less well known social movements who are often transitional and adversarial nature tends to weaken their ability to secure public legitimacy. Their outsider status – that is, their marginalization from central political decision-making processes — along with their often resource-poor nature, means that traditional avenues of publicity are not easily accessible which forces them to rely on alternative methods to obtain media access. Traditionally, this involves some form of public spectacle like a protest — to attract media attention.

Typical protest actions include sit-ins, pickets, street theatre, strikes, rallies, mass demonstrations and their more recent relative, reclaim the street parties. These activities have become accepted as mechanisms by which social problems are communicated in the public sphere, alongside public opinion polls and elections and they act as vital means by which citizens can signal their discontent. Consequently, the way that such protest activities are reported in the media is fundamental to the effectiveness of the feedback loop between the public and their politicians.

Unlike other ‘legitimate’ social groups, like the police and mainstream politicians, most social movements are not the focus of regular news beats. This means that unless social movements stage big public events, they struggle to get their message heard, as “the vast majority of demonstrations are ignored by the mainstream media”— particularly small demonstrations. [Governments are often openly critical of social

Movements that undermine their authority, but perhaps what is more damaging is the subtle nature of the mass media’s marginalization of the activities of many social movements. Linda Kensicki highlighted some of these consequences:

“There are repeated cases of slanting, trivialization, and outright omission of those who deviate from the norms of an elite media and form a political movement to combat injustice. Negative media frames have been discovered in the antinuclear movement, the women’s movement (Barker Plummer 1995), and the gay and lesbian movement, and the National Environmental Policy Act faced a media blackout.

Joseph Chan and Chin-Chuan Lee first described the “protest paradigm” in 1984 to illustrate how the mass media tended to focus on limited features of social protests to portray protestors as the ‘other’. [ Characteristics of this reporting paradigm, which work to separate protestors (them) from non-protesting audiences (us, or at least some of us) include a reliance on official sources to frame the event, a focus on police confrontation, and an analysis of the protestors activities (and appearances) rather than their objectives. This somewhat internalized selection process serves to iffier which protests are reported, and which are ignored (for more on this, see my recent article, Conform or Reform? Social Movements and the Mass Media). Reporting within this paradigm typically gives the impression that protests “erupt out of nowhere’ and. are ‘irrational’ manifestations of self-interest by sectional interest groups operating without concern for, and at the expense of, the ‘organic whole’ — the national interest.”

Understanding the relationship between social movements and the media’s coverage of their actions is crucial, especially if this increasingly important political resource is to be utilized effectively for progressive social change. This article aims to analyze this pivotal relationship from two directions. Firstly, it will examine incidents where the media facilitates social change via protest actions within democratic countries, which will be followed by an examination of the media’s role in catalyzing major social change, that is, revolutions in authoritarian nations. Secondly, the article will chart the ways in which the media (in democratic countries) can act to undermine social movements in the public sphere. Finally, the article will attempt to understand why social movement protest coverage is so variable and conclude by making recommendations for how progressive organizations may best address their relationships with the media.

Media ‘Supported’ Social Movements

Gaining positive media coverage is crucial for many social movements, as the way they are portrayed in the mass media can have important implications for their ability to mobilize citizens to participate in their protests. Indeed in 1987, social movement researchers Bert Kiandermans and Dirk Oegema found that only 5% of the people who agreed with the objectives of a peace protest were motivated enough to participate in the subsequent protest.

Despite such evident barriers to participation, in Belgium on 20 October 1996, a brand new social movement (formed in the wake of the controversy surrounding the arrest of murderer Marc Dutroux) mobilized the White March. What made this event remarkable was that the White March involved around 300,000 citizens and was Belgium’s largest ever demonstration. Stefaan Waigrave and Jan Manssens studied the media coverage of this mobilization and concluded that, contrary to most social movement research, it was the media itself that made the White March successful. In fact, they described how the media “undertook large-scale and unconcealed motivational framing efforts” to actively break down barriers to participation.

Similarly in Australia, the media took on an advocacy role for a protest in Australia when Howard Sattler, the host of a popular Australian talkback radio program, stirred up racist sentiments amongst his listeners, when a young indigenous boy was involved in a fatal hit and run car incident in 1991. Sattler heavily promoted a “Rally for Justice” amidst the ensuing “public hysteria” — generated for the most part from his radio show — which drew thirty thousand angry protestors on to the streets. Worryingly, the rally succeeded in pressuring the Australian government to “introduce poorly framed, racist legislation which contravene.

One US group that seem to have their protest coverage (positively)

amplified in the mass media is the Promise Keepers, “an evangelical men’s organization with an anti-feminist and anti-gay theology”. Dane Claussen analyzed their coverage in US newspapers — from 1991 (their founding year) through to April 1996 — and conduced that it was “overwhelmingly positive”. [ In fact, one of their protests in Washington DC received “more than three times the coverage” the television networks devoted to a women’s march held the day before, which was more than double its size.

Another example of contrasting media coverage can be seen in the reporting of the protests surrounding the US-led invasion of Iraq (in 2003). Catherine Luther and Mark Miller analyzed pro-war and anti-war coverage in eight US newspapers and showed how reporters were more likely to use delegitimation cues when referring to anti-war protestors, while using legitimating cues to refer to pro-war campaigners. Recent anti-war protests held in the US (in September 2005) were downplayed by the media. There were however, a few hundred pro-war protestors and the Washington Post amazingly managed to produce a headline that reported: “Smaller but spirited crowd protests antiwar march; more than 200 say they represent majority.” Clear Channel, the US media conglomerate took this one step further in the lead-up to the war in Iraq by “sponsoring and supporting” a number of pro-war raffles through its radio stations. The various examples of media- supported protests examined here, raise concerns over the role of the media in democracies. Yet even more startling questions arise in the following section, which demonstrates how the media can in some circumstances actually work to support social movements to overthrow governments.

Media-Facilitated Revolutions (and Democracy?):

Since the recent revolution in Serbia, which ousted President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, a series of ‘coloured revolutions’ have swept across Eastern Europe. These were the Rose revolution in Georgia (2003), the Orange revolution in Ukraine (2005) and the Tulip revolution in Kyrgyzstan (2005). In each case, after stolen elections, the media played an important role in catalysing public participation in mass protests, which led to success of each of the revolutions. This section will outline, the integral role the independent media played in each of these four revolutions.

To many political commentators and media scholars, it was clear that the independent media in Serbia “facilitated the regime change and paved the way for democracy”. Names of independent media broadcasters were even “as slogans during the numerous street protests during the 1990s, becoming “symbols of resistance” for democracy. In this case, the Serbian independent media fulfilled an overtly political function and were highly involved in coordinating and organizing protests throughout the decade prior to the revolution. These activities made the independent media particularly prone to pressure from government censors, especially after 1998 when Milosevic’s government cracked down on their efforts to undermine his authority. However, Western countries had significant interests in toppling Milosevic’s regime, so they stepped in to support Serbia’s opposition groups and the independent media. Thus, external financial and diplomatic assistance from foreign countries, particularly from the United States, played a vital role in protecting and amplifying the voice of the independent media. Assistance for the creation of the Asocijacija Nezavisnih Elektronskih Medija (Association of Independent Electronic Media) which was formed in 1993, turned out to be crucial for the survival of the Serbian independent electronic media after 1998, as the international support it received helped protect many broadcasters from state repression. External funding for media development was not insignificant and during the early 1990s the international community provided between US$7- 10 million to the former Yugoslavia for this goal, while after 1995 the US gave a further US$23 million and the European milion augmented this with another 17 million Euros.

As in Serbia, Georgia’s independent media played an important role in challenging legitimacy of their authoritarian government led by President Eduard Shevardnadze. Consequently, this meant that the independent media was often viewed by Shevardnadze as an enemy of the state. So in October 2001, Shevardnadze tried to “shut down Georgia’s most popular independent TV station Rustavi 2”. This prompted Rustavi 2 and other media outlets to draw widespread public attention to the governments heavy handed attempt at censorship, which “led to three days of non-stop protest demonstrations” against the actions of the government. These protests were so successful in mobilising popular support that they led to the resignation of several ministers, and enabled Rustavi 2 to continue broadcasting without further state interference. This turned out to be a critical win for the opposition parties. This is because when Shevardnadze attempted to steal the elections in November 2003, Rustavi 2 acted as a vital part of the opposition’s propaganda machinery, providing “almost non-stop” protest coverage and “inform Georgians about upcoming demonstrations and actions”. These protests were part of the Rose Revolution, which led to the ousting of Shevardnadze, and the election (in January 2004) of the opposition’s leader, Mikhail Saakashvili. During the protests Saakashvili was aware of Rustavi 2 sigufficance and “called on supporters to protect was Rustavi-2’s headquarters”.

As the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance recognised: “The development of independent media is often considered to be the single greatest achievement of Georgia’s democratic transition.” Thus foreign assistance was arguably the key to the success of the independent media and of the Rose revolution, with opposition organisations receiving significant financial assistance from international democracy promoting bodies. In addition, Shevardnadze was placed under significant diplomatic pressure from the US government and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to leave the opposition organisations alone. It is interesting to note that the independent media that helped oust Shevardnadze, have now replaced their adversarial relationship with the government with a symbiotic one: “For instance, before the new elections on March 28, 2004, major TV stations announced the shut down of all political talk-shows and debates” and the abolishment of public debate of the elections.

The focal point for Ukraine’s Orange revolution was the December 2004 elections, in which authoritarian President Leonid Kuchma was accused of tampering with the electoral processes for his preferred candidate Viktor Yanukovich. Again the independent media played an important part in the success of the revolution. Indeed, prior to the revolution in July 2003, Andrii Shevchenko, the first president of the Independent Journalists Trade Union, argued that the “media is the thread which can be used to unravel the power of the establishment”. Coincidentally, around this time in mid-2003, two small media companies were able to secure a broadcast license for what was to be the opposition’s first TV station — Channel 5. Up until this point, Kuchma and his supporters had maintained control of “all the mainstream media outlets in the county”, which had enabled them to sustain an effective “information blockade” against the opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

A top Ukrainian television critic, explained how this information blockade was also used to denigrate opposition-led protests following the contested parliamentary elections in September 2002: “Initially the large protests in Kiev were not reported at all on national television, then the number of protesters who turned up was dramatically under-reported, and later the situation was misrepresented by showing images of street people and drunks when reporting on the protests”. Kuchma’s government had always tolerated some degree of dissent within society, but just before the 2004 elections they clamped down on Channel 5 by freezing their bank accounts and attempting to revoke their broadcasting license. However, Channel 5 still remained on air, so their staff launched a hunger strike on 25 October 2004 that was broadcast until the government stopped harassing them on 2 November 2004.

Channel 5 went on to play an important mobilising role during the revolution, providing information on where protests were taking place: they even had a participatory presence at the opposition rallies themselves on large TV screens which broadcasted Yushchenko’s speeches and provided news and music to the protestors in the streets. The situation in previous elections had been very different, as in September 2002, the Kuchma’s government only allowed TV stations to broadcast once the regime was in “full control of all the news rooms”. While Marta Dyczok suggests that this difference might be partly explained by presences of the large international media contingent covering the 2004 elections, it also seems likely that other more direct external assistance may have had a hand in explaining Kuchma’s comparably tolerant attitude towards dissent. This is because over the previous two years Ukrainian opposition groups had received around US$65 million from US democracy promoting organizations.

Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip revolution — which resulted in the ousting of President Askar Akayev — occurred in March 2005, following the disputed parliamentary elections. US democracy promoters (amongst others) were again working behind the scenes, providing US$26.5 million to various ‘independent’ groups between 2003 and 2004. That said, it appears that the US was not always interested in ousting Akayev, as for most of the 15 years he was in power the US maintained fairly positive relations with Kyrgyzstan. Such congenial relations were disrupted by 2003, a change which may be partly explained by Akayev’s greater diplomatic engagement with Russia.

During his long reign in power, Akayev had not any qualms with dosing down opposition newspapers that threatened his authority, so in May 2003 he forced an important opposition newspaper, Moya Stolitsa, out of business with a libel suit. Just one month later though, the indignant editor of Moya Stolitsa created a new opposition newspaper, called Moya Stolitsa-Novosti (MSN) which obtained funding from the US-based neoconservative organisation, Freedom House. In November 2003, the US then also funded the creation of a new independent printing press, on which MSM and other opposition papers were produced.

The Kyrgyz regime was demonstrably worried by MSN’s adversarial coverage and at one point they cut off the electricity supply to the newspaper’s offices: however, “pressure from foreign governments” came quickly which subsequently “forced” the Kyrgyz administration to stop harassing the ‘independent’ media. In this case, as in the lead-up to the other revolutions, the foreign diplomatic and financial support for MSN (and the opposition media) was vital, as MSN has been credited as being “a major, transformative force”, “fanning the fires of dissent” and printing the locations of opposition demonstrations, facilitating the Tulip revolution that drove Akayev out of the country.

As the revolutionary examples in this section have demonstrated, the media has a powerful role in both generating and harnessing public sentiment around specific issues. It then seems logical to conclude that if the media can rig the rules of the media game to create winners, it can certainly select losers.


The issues arising in this artide amply demonstrate the wide variety in the quality and quantity of the media’s coverage of protests: but how might these differences be explained, and what are there consequences for progressive social change? Answering these questions is particularly important, as it is fundamental to the maintenance of democratic institutions that citizens are able to participate actively in the administration of their society to determine their collective objectives14. On this point it is important to reflect upon the neoliberal environment in which the media currently operates (within Western democracies at least). This is because neoliberal politics facilitates the rising power of (predominantly Western) global media conglomerates and serves to marginalise the majority of citizens from meaningful participation in media policy making. Consequently for any social movement to draw beneficial attention to its activities in the media the first barrier they must overcome are the structural constraints of this communicative medium itself. Despite the extremely negative picture painted in the previous section, there are still some winners in the ‘media game’. So while losers, like the largest protest ever held in Washington, DC (the 2004 Women’s March) received just a “handful of march-related stories over a few days” in the New York Times and the Washington Post; other protesters have their message amplified by the media, as the first two sections of this article illustrated. Stefaan Waigrave and Jan Manssens suggest that the specific contextual factors that encouraged the media to support the White March protests in Belgium included

(1)   clear opposition between the public and elites;

(2)   a “highly emotional and symbolic issue that creates an atmosphere of consensus, emotion, and togetherness”;

(3)   lack of a social movement — so that the media can appear objective and committed to the public good;

(4)   a simple issue;

(5)   a politically neutral, valence issue;

(6)   a media environment that is “commercial and characterized by depoliticisation and de-ideologisation”;

(7)   turbulent times during which the reporting should take place (that is, not under normal circumstances); and lastly

(8)   a high degree of public trust in the media. Mobilising criteria like these are unlikely to be met by many social movements, and are even less likely to be fulfilled by any progressive movements. However, whatever the ultimate reason, the media’s differential treatment of protestors is unlikely to be conducive to supporting the diversity and longevity of social movements required to support democratic forms of governance. This appears especially true when genuine grassroots social movements find themselves competing alongside manufactured (media friendly) corporate social movements or astroturf groups, whose business driven interests are cleverly disguised from their participants and the public. All social movements and interest groups should be able to compete on equal grounds for media coverage, not just a select few that satisfy the media’s news values — which usually act to “reinforce conventional opinions and established authority”.

Although the discussion so far may help explain why certain protests are ‘hacked’ by the media, it does not explain why the independent media has often been able to play such a crucial role in ousting governments during revolutions. Interestingly, similar forms of independent media exist in Western democracies, but there they have little influence on the public sphere  and are unlikely to facilitate a popular revolution in the near future. In fact, the independent media in the West, like their counterparts in authoritarian regimes, have often been targets of secret state-led ‘wars

“This offensive included a variety of repressive actions, including: the monitoring of personal finances of underground journalists; arrests and assaults on staff members; government-inspired distribution hurdles for radical periodicals; loss of printing facilities; grand-jury subpoenas for editors and reporters; the release of ‘disinformation’ falsely attributed to underground media; publication of ‘underground’ papers secretly funded by the government; the bombing, burning, and ransacking of newspaper offices; and, possibly, the destruction of the transmitter of a listener- sponsored radio station.”

So how are the independent media in authoritarian states able to successfully challenge the status quo, when, in even democratic countries, governments have succeeded in repressing and marginalising their voices so effectively? Part of the answer to this question, seems to lie in the support foreign governments provide to the independent media (and social movements) in authoritarian states, financially and diplomatically, through both supportive and coercive mechanisms. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is important in this regard, as they are the main US-based democracy promoting organisation, and they act as a key coordinating body for many of the world’s democracy promoting organisations.

Since the late 1980s, Ellen Hume — who herself sits on the advisory council for the NED’s Center on International Media Assistance — estimates that international democracy promoting organisations have spent anywhere up to US$1 billion promoting independent media overseas. Many scholars have questioned the benign rhetoric surrounding the intentions of these ‘democracy promoters’, and they have illustrated that democracy promoting initiatives are usually strongly tied to the donor countries’ geo-strategic priorities, or more generically to the interests of transnational capitalism. Thus, in 1991, the NED’s president noted that “ of what [ NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA”

It is more appropriate to refer to the activities of the democracy manipulating community as promoting polyarchy (that is, low-intensity democracy) and explains that:

“The promotion of ‘low-intensity democracy’ is aimed not oniy at mitigating the social and political tensions produced by elite-based and undemocratic status quos, but also at suppressing popular and mass aspirations for more thoroughgoing democratisation of social life in the twenty-first century international order”.

The implications of such revelations are huge for the promotion of independent media organisations overseas (a phenOmenon dealt with in full by Barker, In Press, The National Endowment for Democracy and the promotion of ‘democratic’ media systems worldwide). However, rather than just focusing on revolutions supported by foreign so-called ‘democracy promoters’ (read: democracy manipulators), it is enlightening to examine a case of an unsuccessful revolution in which the independent media played a supportive role for the would-be-revolutionaries.

In Azerbaijan, on 15 October 2003, the incumbent authoritarian President Heydar Aliyev was accused of stealing the election results when he handed over control of his regime to his son, Tiham Aliyev. Thousands of citizens immediately took to the streets to protest the results, but unlike the other successful colour revolutions in Eastern Europe, these protests were violently broken up, with hundreds of protestors imprisoned and one killed. For the three weeks following the elections, ilgar Khudiyev compared the media coverage of the protests between state and independent newspapers, and found that the independent media were supportive of the protestors. He also showed how the independent media, as in the colour revolutions, “cited the protestors more than official and authoritative sources” and quoted “those sources that strengthened the position of the protestors”. However, although external democracy manipulating organisations provided financial support to the independent media in Azerbaijan, it seemed that without international diplomatic support (as well), the calls for a revolution fell on deaf ears. So the revolution failed, with the US government even congratulating liham on his election ‘win’.In part, the contradictory nature of the international democracy manipulating communities support for Azerbaijan’s government may be explained by the favorable relations they maintain with the US and other transnational elites. A relationship that was further bolstered by their support for the ‘War on Terrorism’, and for American and British interests in the development of the geostrategically important Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. So while democracy manipulating groups are happy to support and defend independent media organisations overseas (within limits) as a means of promoting social change, they wifi only fully support regime change when they are certain that they can ensure a smooth transition to polyarchal political arrangements that will serve the interests of imperial transnational elites more effectively than the incumbent government. So without apparent contradiction, while the US is openly supportive of Azerbaijan’s authoritarian regime it also simultaneously supports the ousting of other less ‘friendly’ authoritarian governments in other countries.

Not surprisingly the selective nature of the US’s ‘democracy promoting’ policies are echoed in the American media, which effectively serves to manufacture public consent for elite interests. So the US media provided strong support for the ousting of Milosevic while they ‘ignored’ other revolutions: [ for example, in 2000 Greg Palast demonstrated how the Washington Post dismissed one of the biggest international stories of the year — the people’s revolution in Bolivia (which rejected the US corporate- led privatisation of their water supply) — which it covered, or rather marginalised, in the Style section “dangled from the bottom of a cute little story on the lifestyle of some local anti-WTO protesters.” It seems that in the minds of the democracy manipulators and the US media that the Bolivian citizens were supporting the wrong type of democracy, that is, popular democracy rather than polyarchy.

A similar affront on popular democracy occurred in Venezuela, in April 2002, when President Hugo Chavez (who was democratically elected in 1998) was temporarily removed from power in coup. In a manner reminiscent of the colour revolutions in Eastern Europe, there was clear support for the ouster of Chavez by transnational elites. In fact, the group which led the coup against Chavez received financial support from the NED, while the coup itself also received widespread support from the local independent media and from “some sections of the international media”

Prior to the coup, the Venezuelan independent media — “which includes five out of the seven major TV networks and nine out of the 10 major daily papers” — had called for the ousting of Chavez, and made regular broadcasts encouraging people to participate in the coup. That is, they were working in direct opposition to the will of the majority of the Venezuelan public who had shown their overwhelming support for Chavez in numerous democratic elections. In the days following the coup, the radio, television and press then ignored the massive protests calling for the return of Chavez, casting a veil of invisibility over the protestors presence on the streets: this was clearly evident to Chavez’s supporters, who subsequently focused their countercoup campaign on the primary supporters of the coup, the media institutions. However, even when the media gave in to the protestors’ demands for media coverage, they depicted the pro-Chavez campaigners  necessarily facilitate democratic decision-making. Lastly, it is important to acknowledge that both internal and external efforts to undermine Chavez’s government as “the mob”, in stark contrast to their coverage of the protestors who led the coup, who were framed as “civil society”. So as this example ifiustrates, the presence of a vigorous independent media system, free from government control or manipulation, does not continue to this day, with the strong support of the US media and government.

The Right to Information is a Fundamental Human Right:

Lack of information denies people the opportunity to develop their potential to the fullest and realise the full range of their human rights. Individual personality, political and social identity and economic capability are all shaped by the information that is available to each person and to society at large. The practice of routinely holding information away from the public creates ‘subjects’ rather than ‘citizens’ and is a violation of their rights. This was recognised by the United Nations at its very inception in 1946, when the General Assembly resolved: “Freedom of Information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone for all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated’ Enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right’s status as a legally binding treaty obligation was affirmed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontier? . This has placed the right to access information firmly within the body of universal human rights law.

The right to access information underpins all other human rights. For example, freedom of expression and thought inherently rely on the availability of adequate information to inform opinions. The realization of the right to personal safety also requires that people have sufficient information to protect themselves. In Canada, a court has recognized that the right to security creates a corollary right to information about threats to personal safety which would be violated if the police force knew of a threat and failed to provide that information to the threatened individual. The right to food is also often reliant on the right to information. In India for example, people have used access laws to find out about their ration entitlements and to expose the fraudulent distribution of food grains. Quite simply, the right to information is at the core of the human rights system because it enables citizens to more meaningfully exercise their rights, assess when their rights are at risk and determine who is responsible for any violations.

It is important that access to information is recognised as a right because it:

Accords it sufficient importance, as being inherent to democratic functioning and a pre-condition to good governance and the realisation of all other human rights. Becomes part of the accepted international obligations of the state.This means that the right to access information attracts the guarantee of protection by the state. Distances it from being merely an administrative measure by which information is gifted by governments to their people at their discretion since a legally enforceable right cannot be narrowed or ignored at the whim of government. Creates a duty-holder on the one hand and a beneficiary of a legal entitlement on the other. Non-disclosure of information is therefore a violation and the beneficiary can seek legal remedy. Signals that information belongs to the public and not government. The idea that everything is secret unless there is a strong reason for releasing it is replaced by the idea that all information is available unless there are strong reasons for denying it. The onus is on the duty-holder to prove its case for refusing to disclose documents. Sets a higher standard of accountability. Gives citizens the legal power to attack the legal and institutional impediments to openness and accountability that stifi dominate the operations of many governments. It moves the locus of control from the state to the citizen, reinstating the citizen as sovereign. The right to information holds within it the right to seek information, as well as the duty to give information, to store, organise, and make it easily available, and to withhold it only when it is proven that this is in the best public interest. The duty to enable access to information rests with government and encompasses two key aspects: enabling citizens to access

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless frontiers”.

UN Principles on Freedom. of Information:

  • Public bodies have an obligation to disclose information and every member of the public has a corresponding right to receive information; “information” includes all records held by a public body, regardless of the form. in which it is stored;
  • Freedom of information implies that public bodies publish and disseminate widely documents of significant public interest, for example, operational information about how the public body functions and the content of any decision or policy affecting the public;
  • As a minimum, the law on freedom of information should make provision for public education and the dissemination of information regarding the right to have access to information; the law should also provide for a number of mechanisms to address the problem of a culture of secrecy within Government;
  • A refusal to disclose information may not be based on the aim to protect Governments from embarrassment or the exposure of wrongdoing; a complete list of the legitimate aims which may justify non disclosure should be provided in the law and exceptions should be narrowly drawn so as to avoid including material which does not harm the legitimate interest;
  • All public bodies should be required to establish open, accessible internal systems for ensuring the public’s right to receive information; the law should provide for strict time limits for the processing of requests for information and require that any refusaLs be accompanied by substantive written reasons for the refusal(s);
  • The cost of gaining access to information held by public bodies should not be so high as to deter potential applicants and negate the intent of the law itselC
  • The law should establish a presumption that all meetings of governing bodies are open to the public;
  • The law should require that other legislation be interpreted, as far as possible, in a manner consistent with its provisions; the regime for exceptions provided for in the freedom of information law should be comprehensive and other laws should not be permitted to extend it Individuals should be protected from any legal, administrative or employment related sanctions for releasing information on wrongdoing, viz, the commission of a criminal offence or dishonesty, failure to comply with a legal obligation, a miscarriage of justice, corruption or dishonesty or serious failures in the administration of a public body.


In recent years, many Commonwealth countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have passed laws providing for the right of access to administrative information. USA, France and Scandinavian countries have also passed similar laws. US Freedom of Information Act ensures openness in administration by enabling the public to demand information about issues as varied as deteriorating civic amenities, assets of senators and utffization of public funds.

It is not only the developed countries that have enacted freedom of information legislation, similar trends are seen in the developing countries as well. The new South Africa Constitution specifically provides the Right to Information in its Bill of Rights- -thus giving it an explicit constitutional status. Malaysia operates an on-line data base system known as Civil Services Link, through which a person can access information regarding functioning of public administration. There is thus a global sweep of change towards openness and transparency.

In USA, the first amendment to the Constitution provided for the freedom of speech and expression. The country had already passed the Freedom of Information Reform Act 1986, which seeks to amend and extend the provisions of previous legislation on the same subject. But this right is not absolute. Recently, the US Supreme Court struck down two provisions of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 1996, seeking to protect minors from harmful material on the Internet precisely because they abridge the freedom of speech protected by the first amendment. Moreover, the vagueness in the CDA’s language, the ambiguities regarding its scope and difficulties in adult-age verification, make CDA unfeasible in its application to a multifaceted and unlimited form of communications such as Internet.

Sweden has been enjoying the right to know since 1810. It was replaced in 1949 by a new Act which enjoyed the sanctity of being a part of the country’s Constitution itself. The principle is that every Swedish citizen should have access to virtually all documents kept by the State or municipal agencies.

In Australia, the Freedom of Information Act was enacted in December 1982. It gave citizens more access to the Federal Government’s documents. With this, manuals used for making decisions were also made available. But in Australia, the right is curtailed where an agency can establish that noirdisciosure is necessary for protection of essential public interest and private and business affairs of a person about whom information is sought.

Even the Soviets, under Mikhail Gorbachev, have realized that “the State does not claim monopoly of truth any longer”. Glasnost has cast away the cloud of secrecy and stresses the priority of human values.

Even as steps are taken to ensure openness in matters affecting the public, there has to be a greater sense of responsibility on the part of users of information in the media and elsewhere. Journalists must ensure that they seek information in public interest and not as agents of interested parties.

India has so far followed the British style of administration. In Great Britain, Official Secrets Act, 1911 and 1989 are intended to defend national security by rendering inaccessible to the public certain categories of official information. However, the government recognizes that access to information is an essential part of its accountability. A recent legislation governing access to public information includes Local Government. On the other hand, all provide some protection for different aspects of personal information.

European Union:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises… The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

”The right to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

“The right of access to information” which recommended that the European Commission should draft a report on “measures designed to improve public access to the information available to the institutions. On the basis of the declaration, a code of conduct was adopted by the Commission and the Council, detailing the conditions under which access could be requested to information held by these institutions. The code of conduct was then implemented by a Council decision of 1993 and a Commission decision of 1994, both of which remained in force until quite recently.

The 1997 Amsterdam Treaty moved a significant step further by granting, in the newly introduced a right of access to documents which was, however, subject to detailed rules set out in secondary EC legislation. According to Article 255, this secondary legislation was to be adopted within two years of the Treaty of Amsterdam entering into force. The Treaty came into force in 1999 and the Regulation on Freedom of Information was passed in 2001. It covers “all documents held by an institution, that is to say, drawn up or received by it and in its possession, in all areas of activity of the European Union”. The Regulation obligates both the European Union Commission and the European Parliament to create public registers of documents on the internet and to ensure that references are provided to all documents in the register as soon as they are created.

In 2002, the European Ombudsman promulgated a Code of Good Administrative Behavior, which applies to all institutions of the EU. Under Officials are required to “provide members of the public with the information that they request”, and if they cannot they must state the reasons for noir disclosure. The Code enjoins officials to deal with requests in a timely fashion, and to take effective steps to inform the public about their rights under it.

Other International Standards:

The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information were adopted in October 1995

by a group of experts in international law, national security, and human rights convened by ARTICLE 19, the International Centre against Censorship, in collaboration with the Centre for Applied Legal Studies of the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. The key provisions are as follows:

Principle 1: Freedom of Opinion, Expression and Information:

  1. Everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference.
  2. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his or her choice.
  3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph (b) may be subject to restrictions on specific grounds, as established in international law, including for the protection of national security.
  4. No restriction on freedom of expression or information on the ground of national security may be imposed unless the government can demonstrate that the restriction is prescribed by law and is necessary in a democratic society to protect a legitimate national security interest. The burden of demonstrating the validity of the restriction rests with the government.

Principle 1.1: Prescribed by Law:

  1. Any restriction on expression or information must be prescribed by law. The law must be accessible, unambiguous, drawn narrowly and with precision so as to enable individuals to foresee whether a particular action is unlawful.
  2. The law should provide for adequate safeguards against abuse, including prompt, full and effective judicial scrutiny of the validity of the restriction by an independent court or tribunal.

Top Journalists Expose Maior Cover-ups in Mass Media:

By February 1997 our story was ready to air. It attempted to answer some troubling questions: Why had Monsanto sued two small dairies to prevent them from labeling their milk as coming from cows not injected with  hormone BGH}? Why had two Canadian health regulators claimed that their jobs were threatened—-and then said Monsanto offered them a bribe to give fast-track approval to the drug? Why did Florida supermarkets break their much-publicized promise that milk in the dairy case would not come from hormone-treated cows “until it gained widespread acceptance?” And why was the US the only major industrialized nation to approve this controversial genetically engineered hormone?

Station managers were so proud of our work that they saturated virtually every Tampa Bay radio station with thousands of dollars’ worth of ads urging viewers to watch what we’d uncovered about “The Mystery in Your Milk.” But then, our Fox managers’ pride turned to panic. lawyer John Walsh wrote that some points of the story “clearly contain the elements of defamatory statements which, if repeated in a broadcast, could lead to serious damage to Monsanto and dire consequences for Fox News.”

It was not long after our [struggle to air an honest report had begun that Fox fired both the news director and the general manager. The new general manager, Dave Boylan, explained that if we didn’t agree to changes that Monsanto and Fox lawyers were insisting upon, we’d be fired for insubordination within 48 hours. We pleaded with Dave to look at the facts we’d uncovered, many of which conclusively disproved Monsanto’s claims. We reminded him of the importance of the facts about a basic food most of our viewers consume and feed to their children daily. His reply: “We paid 3 billion dollars for these TV stations. We’ll tell you what the news is. The news is what we say it is!” Steve author’s husband and coworker was firm but respectful when he made it clear we would neither lie nor distort any part of the story.

Dairy Coalition’s director took great pride in bragging that the Coalition “snowed the station with paperwork and pressure to have the story killed.” Fox threatened our job every time we resisted the dozens of changes that would sanitize the story and fill it with lies and distortions. lawyer Forest finally leveled with us. “You guys don’t get it. It doesn’t matter whether the facts are true. This story isn’t worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars to go up against Monsanto.”

Fox’s general manager presented us with an agreement that would give us a full year of salaries and benefits worth $200,000 in no-show “consulting jobs,” but with strings attached: no mention of how Fox covered up the story and no opportunity to ever expose the facts Fox refused to air. We turned down this second hush money offer. We were both finally fired, allegedly for “no cause.”

The controversy over right has traveled recently to Canada and. the European Union, both of which decided to reject the drug for use in those countries.

Access was extremely limited. to the press during the time of September 11th, and ever since then [ been] limited in a way that is unprecedented in American journalism. There was a full understanding of why access was so limited during that time. in the weeks and months that followed September 11th, the federal government began to take an unprecedented attitude about the access of American journalists to the war. What’s particularly troubling is that what’s being done is in direct variance with the Pentagon’s stated policy maximum access and maximum information consistent with national security. What’s going on is a belief that you can manipulate communicable trust between the leadership and the led. The way you do that is you don’t let the press in anywhere

Access to the  Iraq]  war is extremely limited. The fiercer the combat, the more the access is limited, access to information. I would say that overwhelmingly the limiting of access to information has much more to do with the determination to be seen as conducting the war errorless than it does with any sense of national security

None of us in journalism have asked questions strongly enough about limiting access and information for reasons other than national security. It’s unpatriotic not to ask questions. Anybody in American journalism who tells you that he or she has not felt this pressure  to ask tough questionsi is either kidding themselves or trying to deceive you

What we’re talking about here is a form of self-censorship. Self-censorship is a real and present danger to journalists at every level and on a lot of different kinds of stories. Before the war, before September 11th, fear ruled every newsroom in the country in some important ways—fear if we don’t dumb it down, if we don’t tart it up, if we don’t go to the trivial at the expense of the important, we’re not going to be publishing a newspaper or magazine. We’re not going to be on the air.

There was a time in South Africa when people would put flaming tires around people’s necks if they dissented. In some ways the fear now in the U.S.] is that you’ll have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck. It’s that fear that keeps journalists from asking the tough questions. And I am humbled to say, I do not except myself from this criticism

Marine Private Robert R. Garwood—fourteen years a prisoner of the communist Vietnamese—was found guilty of collaboration with the enemy in the longest court-martial in United States history. I first heard of Garwood in 1979. Wire reports referred to him as a defector whom the US government was charging with being a traitor. At the end of the court- martial, there seemed no question that Garwood was a monstrous traitor.

In 1985, Garwood was speaking publicly about something that had never made the news during his court-martial. The Wall Street Journal reported he said that he knew firsthand of other American prisoners in Vietnam long after the war was over. He was supported by Vietnam combat veterans whose war records were impeccable. These veterans told a story vastly different from what was made public during the court-martial and one that was intimately tied to another 60 Minutes story I was working on—”Dead or Alive?” The title referred to Vietnam POW/MIAs.

My sources included outstanding experts like former head of the Defense Inteffigence Agency General Eugene Tithe and returned POWs like Captain Red McDaniel, who held the Navy’s top award for bravery, had commanded the aircraft carrier Lexington, and was director of liaison on Capitol Hifi for the Navy and Marine Corps. With such advocates providing back up, it was hard not to consider the possibility that prisoners (some 3,500) had in fact been kept by the Vietnamese communists as hostages to make sure the US would pay the more than $3 billion in war reparations that Nixon had promised before his fall from grace. Particularly compelling was the fact that of the 300 prisoners known to be held in Laos, not one was released for homecoming in 1973

Initially held back to ensure the US would fulfill its secret promise to pay reparation monies, by 1979 American POWs had become worthless pawns. The US had not paid the promised monies and had no intention of paying in the future.

Mass Media & Right to Information in Bangladesh:

Bangladesh situation

In Bangladesh, where democratic governments have been in power since 1991, there are some laws in force that are antithetic to the right of access to information and the Oath of Secrecy, are such restricting laws that are being imposed by the governments to curtail peoples rights of access to information. Article 19 of the Government Servants (Conduct) Act says: “A government servant shall not, unless generally or specially empowered by the government in this behalf, disclose directly or indirectly to government servants belonging to other Ministries, Divisions or Departments, or to non-official persons or to the Press, the contents of any official document or communicate any information which has come into his possession in the course of his official duties, or has been prepared or collected by him in the course of those duties, whether from official sources or otherwise.

Despite an abundance of advocacy and citizen groups in Bangladesh, the lack of right of access to information has consigned the country and its people to an abject obscurity about the government functionaries. The proposed Right to Information Act, drafted by the law is now lying with the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs for scrutiny and yet to be passed as an ordinance.

At present, a national movement is going on in Bangladesh in support of the demand for right to information. Several civil society organizations have formed coalitions and networks to work at different levels to make the act a reality. Attempts were taken up and a draft law on the right of information has been prepared by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) based on the existing one by the Law Commission along with addressing its loopholes. A process of consultation was also initiated by MJF with a number of civil society organizations to take inputs from a wide stakeholders group on the draft law and prepare a final draft that has ownership of many, including lawyers, professions, and the general public. It has now been imperative that we take coordinated efforts to get this draft law adopted and ratified by the government. In this regard the example of civil society movement of India can be a guiding light. In India, the demand for such a law came from the people instead of an idea from some urban elites. It is therefore important that in Bangladesh we continue to raise awareness on the issue especially its impact on the livelihood of common people.

The right to information is a cardinal phenomenon to good governance and the whole mechanism of governance in the country has been vitiated owing to lack of it. An example can be cited from the Public Expenditure Review Commission (RERC), which has detected hundreds of irregularities in public expenditure and waste of funds. The PERC also categorically has reported that the parliamentary standing committees failed to ensure accountability and transparency in public expenditure and to remove corruption from the state organs. Absence of accountability and transparency coupled with ever increasing corruption in most of the government departments is no doubt the consequence of lack of right to information.

Although the constitution does not make a clear reference on states: “a) the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression and b) freedom of the press are guaranteed.

Access to information is a vital factor for achieving the goals of good governance, which promote transparency and public accountability in the working of government functionaries. Information is a public resource in the hand of the government and the government is to share it with the citizens to the best advantage of the society. We sincerely hope that our parliament will ponder over the issue of right to information and enact full-fledged laws to ensure people’s right to information which will eventually lead to good governance and give the democracy a real spirit. The media and the conscious people of the country should also come forward to meet their moral obligation for people’s right to information.

Right to information has a governance as well as a rights perspective. Correct information at the right time reduces the chance of misuse of resources and lessens corruption. It also helps governance system function better, makes service providers accountable for their actions, creates participatory and transparent environment for people to contribute in policy formulation and establishing rule of law. It also gives people a legal right to demand entitlements and monitor the use or misuse of funds meant for them. Right to Information regime is also a means for government to empower the poor and inform them about pro-poor polices and safety net programs.


The constitution guarantees the fundamental rights to free speech and expression. The prerequisite for enjoying this right is knowledge and information. The absence of authentic information on matters of public interest will only encourage wild rumors and speculations and avoidable allegations against individuals and institutions. Therefore, the Right to Information becomes a constitutional right, being an aspect of the right to free speech and expression which includes the right to receive and collect information. This will also help the citizens perform their fundamental duties as set out in Article 5 1A of the Constitution. A fully informed citizen will certainly be better equipped for the performance of these duties. Thus, access to information would assist citizens in fulfilling these obligations.


As no right can be absolute, the Right to Information has to have its limitations. There will always be areas of information that should remain protected in public and national interest. Moreover, this unrestricted right can have an adverse effect of an overload of demand on administration. So the information has to be properly, clearly classified by an appropriate authority.

The usual exemption permitting Government to withhold access to information is generally in respect of the these matters: (1) International relations and national security; (2) Law enforcement and prevention of crime; (3) Internal deliberations of the government; (4) Information obtained in confidence from some source outside the Government; (5) Information which, if disclosed, would violate the privacy of an individual; (6) Information, particularly of an economic nature, when disclosed, would confer an unfair advantage on some person or subject or government; (7) Information which is covered by legal/professional privilege, like communication between a legal advisor and his client and (8) Information about scientific discoveries and inventions and improvements, essentially in the field of weapons.

These categories are broad and information of every kind in relation to these matters cannot always be treated as secret. There may be occasions when information may have to be disclosed in public interest, without compromising the national interest or public safety. For example, information about deployment and movement of armed forces and information about military operations, qualify for exemption. Information about the extent of defense expenditure and transactions for the purchase of guns and submarines and aircraft cannot be totally withheld at all stages.


The Right to Information has already received judicial recognition as a part of the fundamental right to free speech and expression. An Act is needed to provide a statutory frame work for this right. This law will lay down the procedure for translating this right into reality.

Information is indispensable for the functioning of a true democracy. People have to be kept informed about current affairs and broad issues — political, social and economic. Free exchange of ideas and free debate are essentially desirable for the Government of a free country.

In this Age of Information, its value as a critical factor in socio-cultural, economic and political development is being increasingly felt. In a fast developing country like India, availability of information needs to be assured in the fastest and simplest form possible. This is important because every developmental process depends on the availability of information.

Right to know is also closely linked with other basic rights such as freedom of speech and expression and right to education. Its independent existence as an attribute of liberty cannot be disputed. Viewed from this angle, information or knowledge becomes an important resource. An equitable access to this resource must be guaranteed.

According to Mr. P.B. Sawant, “the barrier to information is the single most cause responsible for corruption in society. It facilitates clandestine deals, arbitrary decisions, manipulations and embezzlements. Transparency in dealings, with their every detail exposed to the public view, should go a long way in curtailing corruption in public life.”


The need for Right to Information has been widely felt in all sectors of the country and this has also received judicial recognition through some landmark judgments of Indian courts.

A Supreme Court judgment delivered by Mr. Justice Mathew is considered a landmark. In his judgment in (1975) case, Justice Mathew rules-In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing. Their right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary when secrecy is claimed for transactions which can at any rate have no repercussion on public security. But the legislative wing of the State did not respond to it by enacting suitable legislation for protecting the right of the people.

According to Attorney General Soil Sorabjee – It was in 1982 that the right to know matured to the status of a constitutional right in the celebrated case of S P Gupta vs. Union of India (AIR) 1982 SC (149), popularly known as Judges case. Here again the claim for privilege was laid before the court by the Government of India in respect of the disclosure of certain documents. The Supreme Court by a generous interpretation of the guarantee of freedom of speech and expression elevated the right to know and the right to information to the status of a fundamental right, on the principle that certain unarticulated rights are immanent and implicit in the enumerated guarantees.


Simultaneously very significant development has taken place. The demand for Right to Information has taken the form of mass movement at the grass root level. A mass based organization called the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) took an initiative to lead the people in a very backward region of Rajasthan – Bhim Tehsil to assert their right to information by asking for copies of bills and vouchers and names of persons who have been paid wages mentioned in muster rolls on the construction of schools, dispensaries, small dams and community centres. On paper such development projects were all completed, but it was common knowledge of the villagers that there was gross misappropriation of funds with roofless school buildings, dispensaries without walls, dams left incomplete and community centres having no doors and windows.

After years of knocking at officials’ doors and despite the usual apathy of the State government, MKSS succeeded in getting photocopies of certain relevant documents. Misappropriation of funds was clearly obvious. In some cases, the muster rolls contained names of persons who either did not exist at all or died years before. This incident is more than sufficient to show the importance of the ability of information for eradicating mal practices. With so many scandals emerging from time to time, it becomes vital for the management of public fund and survival of democracy.

MKSS organized a Jan Sun wal (People’s hearing), the first ever in the history of Rajasthan. Politicians, administrators, landless labourers, private contractors were all invited to listen, respond and, if willing, to defend themselves. Popular response was phenomenal, but village officials and politicians stayed away and remained silent, and thereby weakened their position and darkened their image.

Between December 1994 and April 1995, several other public hearings were organized. People’s anger made one engineer of the State Electricity Board to return in public an amount of Rs. he had extracted from a poor farmer. This grass root movement is fast spreading to other areas of Rajasthan and to other States establishing firmly that information is power and people should have the right to official information.

In early 1989, the then the Prime Minister Mr. VP Singli declared the attitude of the new Government on the Right to Information and transparent government. He said, “An open system of governance is an essential prerequisite for the fullest flowering of democracy. Free flow of information from the Government to the people will not only create an enlightened and informed public opinion but also render those in authority accountable. In the recent past, we have witnessed many distortions in our information system the veil of secrecy was lowered many a time not in the interest of national security, but to shield the guilty, vested interests or gross errors of judgments.37 Therefore, the National Front

Government has decided to make the Right to Information a Fundamental A large area of information dissemination also relates to development programmes, their progress and their impact. This will need to be done at the Panchayat and Municipal levels, not only to encourage multi-level planning but also the common man in the villages.”

In 1996, Justice PB Sawant, the Chairman of the Press Council of India, drafted the bill keeping in view the dire need of the day and the observations made by eminent persons that in a democracy, it is the people who are the masters and those utilizing public resources and exercising public power are their agents. The draft Bill was submitted to the Government of India on 1996. The core of the Bill is clause 3 which says

  1. every citizen shall have the Right to Information from public body;
  2. it shall be the duty of the public body to maintain all records duly catalogued and indexed;
  • The public body shall be under a duty to make available to the person requesting information, as it is under an obligation to obtain and furnish and shall not withhold any information or limit its availability to the public except the information specified in Clause 4, and
  1. All individuals whether citizens or not, shall have the right to such information that affects their life and liberty;

The Bill defines information as any fact relating to the affairs of a public body and records relating to its affairs. Public body includes (a) state within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India, (b) all public undertakings and non-statutory authorities and (c) a company, corporation, society, trust, firm or a co-operative society whether owned or controlled by the Government or by private individuals and institutions whose activities affect the public interest.

The Working Group on the ‘Right to Information and Promotion of Open and Transparent Government’ submitted its comprehensive and detailed report and the draft Bifi on Freedom of Information on 24 May 1997.

The salient features of the Bill were

  1. When enacted, it will also apply to State governments over riding State legislations to the extent they clash with the Central legislation;
  2. A fee would be paid by the citizen while seeking information from Government, and the officer or the department concerned can be held responsible and taken to a Consumer Court for not providing the information within the prescribed time limit of 30 days;
  • Every Government department should appoint a Public Information Officer for this purpose;
  1. Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act should be suitably amended to make it easier for a citizen to obtain official information, and information can be withheld only in respect of especially ‘exempted’ items;
  2. Clauses 123 and 124 of the Indian Evidence Act which inhibit public officials from submitting information to Courts, should be suitably amended, and
  3. The basis and the procedure for classification of official documents (as ‘top Secret’, ‘Secret’ and ‘confidential’) should be suitably amended so that availability of information to the public becomes the rule rather than the exception.

Not only the Central and the State Ministries, but also public sector undertakings, municipal bodies and panchayats and other bodies substantially funded by Government, would come within the purview of the Act.

The Press Council of India, the Press Institute of India, the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information and the Forum for Right to Information unanimously submitted the resolution to Government of India to amend the proposed Bifi on February 20 this year.

Proposed right to information law to take Bangladeshi media now here

There is apparently a good news for the citizens of Bangladesh in general and the media practitioners in particular that the country’s Law Commission has recently formulated, at the request of the government, a draft law – Right to Information Act – seeking people’s democratic right to access to the public information.

The law, if eventually enacted, is supposed to provide all concerned with the guaranteed scope for access to public information and has a lot to do with the freedom of press, which, in turn, helps people to make an informed opinion about the action and inaction of a law that eventually helps people to make the government functionaries accountable.

But this is, perhaps, not going to happen because the commission does not find it necessary to scrap the old legal provisions standing firmly in the way of dissemination of public information.

In this regard, the commission refers to the similar laws, either already enacted or in the process of being enacted, in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

To appreciate the contents of the draft law, it has unambiguously defined ‘public information’, ‘right to public information’, means of procuring public information, obligations on the part of government authorities to disseminate information among the public, punitive measures for the public servants in case of any failure to provide people with information, procedure of ensuring the punishment, even procedure of filing appeal against punishment awarded to a public servant for his/her alleged failure, etc.

The draft law has also recognized the democratic right of the public to have access to records of the government, statutory bodies and the registered noirgovernment organizations( KNGOs). The inclusion of NGOs is a very important improvement, given the amount of money this sector spends in different social and economic sectors and the amount of influence that the sector exerts in different sectors.

Defining the ‘right to information’, the draft law has rightly pointed out that it means “the right of access to information and includes inspection, taking notes, and extracts, and obtaining photocopy or certified copies of documents or records of any public authority”.

The draft law has rightly underlined that ‘every citizen’, on request, has “to be given access to information relating to decisions made, proceedings drawn, or acts performed or proposed to be performed by any public authority”.

And to ensure this right, the Law Commission has rightly proposed that “every public authority shall be under a duty to maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed … to make available to any citizen requesting information from it and shall not withhold any information or limit its availability”.

Detailing the procedure of securing information, the draft law says: “A citizen desiring to obtain an information from a public authority will require to make a request, in the form to be printed and supplied by the public authority at a price of five taka, to the designated officer or if no officer was designated, to the head of the office or head of the sub-office, as the case may be, of the public authority, dearly specifying the particulars of the information, document or record and the mode of access, i.e. inspection, copying or taking note, sought for”.

The responsibility of the public authority has been laid down clearly. It “shall furnish the information”, excepting certain categories of information that the authorities are proposed to have been exempted from providing the citizens with, “within 15 days from the date of receipt of a request”. If and when the officer concerned decides to refuse access, he will communicate such decision to the applicant “within 10 days, specifying the reasons on which such refusal is based”.

if an applicant finds the refusal illegal, he/she will be free to go to the information tribunal, proposed to be se up in every district, while an aggrieved party will have the scope for filing appeals against the verdict of an information tribunal with the information appellate tribunal.

These are all fine, excepting the categories of the information that, according to the draft legislation prepared by the Law Commission, the citizens should not have access to. But what remains incomprehensible to many in the media sector is that the commission’s reluctance ‘to repeal those laws which restrict public access to information’.

The first of the laws that restrict free flow of information is the ‘oath (or affirmation) of secrecy’ that provides the ministers with the impunity to hide from the press and the public the information that they come across while heading the ministries – – a prime source of public information.

Then, there is a section in the Government Servants (Conduct) Rules, 1979, making it a punishable offence for a government servant to “disclose directly or indirectly to government servants belonging to other ministries, divisions or departments, or to non-official persons or to the press, the contents of any official document or communicate any information which has come into his possession in the course of his official duties, or has been prepared or collected by him in the course of those duties, whether from official sources or otherwise, unless he/she is generally or specially empowered by the government”.

“No information acquired directly or indirectly from official documents or relating to official matters shall be communicated by a government servant to the press, to non-officials or even officials belonging to other government offices, unless he has been generally or specially empowered to do so”.

One wonders as to how the government officials, designated under the proposed right to information law, would provide the people with public information without scrapping these rules – not to mention so many similar ones. But in its draft law, the Law Commission certifies that the ‘prohibitive laws’ in question are nothing but ‘reasonable restrictions for the sake of security of the state, privacy of the citizen and good governance’! God bless the Law Commission. Meanwhile, the thinking section of the media community in Dhaka believes that the draft law, even if enacted in the present form, would hardly ensure the people’s right to information.

Freedom of Media in Bangladesh

Though there is no restriction on news media right now in Bangladesh by the government, the agencies have transformed themselves acute subject of self censorship.

While trying to find out the reason behind the scenario, we found – the owners of most of the daily newspapers and television channels are corporate sector. Hence naturally they restrain themselves from broadcasting the news that might hamper the interest of their owners or patrons. Interestingly most of the owners and patrons are the local agents of international trade community.

It is very clearly evident that currently in Bangladesh, media machine got hijacked by some miscreant groups. To this group profit always comes first not the community interest. Serving continuously the interest of cheap money media has become exhausted to the bottom.

Consequently “alternative media” has become a timely demand. This will serve the public interest thoroughly. We strongly believe that in the present perspective, another type of communication/mass media is not only possible but also an immediate pre-requisite for establishing good governance in Bangladesh.

According to available information the ownership of leading Media in Bangladesh

No. Name of the media Ownership Type of Companies

  1. Daily Jugantar Jamima Group of Companies Real State and Soap


  1. Daily Protham Alo Transcom Group of Companies PhiJips local agent
  2. Daily Ittefaq Private group of Companies Business tycoon and Politics
  3. Daily Janakantha Globe — Janalantha Group Real state and mosquito coil producer

5 Daily Inqilab Private Inqilab enterprise and mobiiize

religious(Islamic) teacher nationwide

6 Daily Bhorer Kagoj Karnaphuli Group of Companies Export and Import

oriented and politics

7 Daily Manabzamin Private –

8 Daily Dinkal Private Spokesman of Ruling party (Bangladesh

Nationalist Party BNP)

9 Daily Sangbad Private Authorized Arms Dealer

10 Daily Ajker Kagoj Private Leading Industrialist and Politics

11 Daily Bangladesh Observer Private Al Helal Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd

12 Daily Star Transcom Group of Companies Philips local agent

13 Daily Independent Beximco Group Leading Industrialist

14 Daily New Age Private Holiday Printers Ltd.

15 Daily Financial Express Private International Publication Ltd

16 Daily News Today A group of Industrialist News Corp Publication Ltd.

17 Daily New Nations Private Prominent Civil Society member

18 Daily Bangladesh Today ACT Group Soap and agro-company

19 Daily Samakal Hamim Group of Industry Garments Industries.

20 Weekly 2000 Transcom Company Philips local agent

TV Broadcasting

1 ATN- Bangla Private Industries.

2 Channel-I Private A Group of Industrialist

3 NTV Private A Group of Industrialist and Politics

News Agencies

1 United News of Bangladesh(UNB) Private Industrialist

2 ÀBAS Private Industrialist

3 NNB Private –

4  BD NEWS 24 Private –

BNNRC is looking for such a help.

What BNNRC do now

To create mass awareness on ICT use and its correlation to poverty alleviation and institutionalization of democracy.( Right To Information)

To create a ICT resource base and young student catalyst especially in coastal area who will consider ICT as a basic human right not as mere privilege.

To promote critical civil society in providing alternative policy options in view of ICT not as mere privilege but also as human rights and the ICT should be utilized for public good not only for mere profit.

To provide support, training and technical assistance for piloting or action research on promotion of Amateur radio, Community radio, Citizen band radio, Low cost appropriate technology in power generation, Radio communication among the fishermen and launch in riverine communication, and Internet and computer practice among the disadvantage community and in outreach areas.

To establish and maintenance of disaster radio network for coastal area and a rapid disaster communication deployment force.

Relevancy of the objectives to the National Plan of PRSP, MDGs, WSIS action plan and National ICT Policy

The Objectives in compliance with A National Plan of PRSP, MDGS, WSIS action plan & national policy. The Objectives compliance with a national Strategy for Economic Growth, Poverty Reduction and Social Development (PRSP), Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), WSIS action plan and National Policy on Information, Communication Technology (ICT) published by Ministry of ICT and Science of Government of Bangladesh

The Specific objectives are determined in such a way that compliment to greater extent to the national development program which has the relevance in the following aspects:

Objective: Awareness on correlations of ICT, poverty alleviation social mobilization. The objective is quite relevant with the policies like PRSP, MDGs, WSIS action plan, ICT policy because all these policies intended to alleviate poverty creating opportunities and employment through raising awareness and building capacity. ICT as a tool can create skill base professional at all levels particularly at rural levels which contribute to poverty alleviation. ICT policy also emphasizes to ensure access to rural people. All these policies are interlinked with aims and objectives.

Objective: Establishment of ICT resource center and promotion of radio listeners as primary ICT catalyst in remote coastal/rural district

ICT resource centre will generate skill among the rural people. All the policies emphasize to ensure training and human resource development, build up information base, facilitate research and development, e commerce, e-governance, agriculture and poverty alleviation and other facilities like radio listeners club among coastal/rural areas which are very much linked with PRSP, ICT policy and MDGs, WSIS action plan goals.


Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES) During disaster period particularly in coastal areas the objectives of PRSP, 1VIDGs, WSIS action plan and ICT policy face obstacle because all lifeline communication like telephone, cell phone, fax etc become disrupted. RACES will help during emergency disaster period for establishing communication among the community people, NGOs, and government as well. Thus the objectives of these policies will be achievable for RACES.

Parliamentarian Caucus on ICT for Development (ICT4D)

BNNRC has been advocating a “parliamentarian coccus on ICT for

Development” to be formed for the promotion of Information &

Communication technology for development (ICT4D). “Strengthening

Parliamentary Democracy (SPD) project” of Bangladesh Parliament has

aggreed on princile with the out line and started working for it.

National Frequency Allocation Plan with BTRC

With Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission, BNNRC is advocating in allocation of national frequency plan. Representing NGOs, BNNRC is looking after the interest of poverty stricken population in air wave distribution.

A sourcebook for Parliamentarians onICT4D

Under the Government project namely “Strengthening Parliamentary Democracy (SPD) supported by TJNDP, BNNRC currently facilitating a translation work of a book namely ‘A Sourcebook for Parliamentarians’ for popularizing ICT issues among the policy makers. Besides, translation, BNNRC has a plan to launch the book nationally. BNNRC believes, the book will help conceptualizing the ICT4D issues among the policy makers. This project of BNNRC is being supported by “Strengthening Parliamentary Democracy (SPD)” of Bangladesh Parliament.

Radio Listeners Club

BNNRC members have already started initiatives to form radio listeners club especially among the students in the coastal areas. BNNRC believes this is the first affordable gateway for the coastal young to get international attitude, enrich knowledge base and update them. This is also needed small input.

Policy Advocacy regarding Telephone

BNNRC engagement this arena, are mostly related to policy advocacy’s, now it is needed a favorable policy environment for several aspects, how BNNRC is doing it especially in respect of community radio and amateur radio being mentioned in above. Apart from this in view of organization objectives, BNNRC also is doing policy advocacy in following respects

– government should extend fixed line telephones services in remote coastal islands first apart from taking plan to expand this in cities,

– mobile phone rates in this country is high in compare to other SAARC countries, government should take steps to compel companies to reduce those and for a fair competition government agency like BTTB should be facilitated to launch mobile phone with low price taking this as a principle of social services, especially in the remote rural areas, where commercial companies unwilling to go.

BNNRC is taking steps to organize others to raise voice in this regard. Promotion of Citizen Band Radio

Communication is a basic requirement of effective disaster management. During earthquake when all the mainstream communication systems like cellular & land phone, internet connection etc. are naturally shut down rescue & relief operations become quite impossible. But with Citizen Band Radio people can easily keep in constant communication without interruption. This requires least technical training & no call charge at all.

Primarily a group of volunteers will be trained up on the operation of citizen band radio. This group of volunteers will split up in areas with less communication facilities after earthquake & keep in constant communication among each other & the headquarter. People can seek information about earthquake affected places & people & the radio operators will visit the place & provide live information through the CB Radio. Also as the telecomm system will be shattered down people can seek information through amateur radio from other districts of the country as well from abroad which the headquarter will query from the CB radio operators & provide to the people in need.

Target communities are the citizens of Chittagong municipality of Bangladesh. A pilot project implementing by Young Power in Social Action (YPSA). YPSA is a national Treasurer of BNNRC.

Right to Information as a Fundamental Right:

Supreme Court on the Right to Information

That the right to information is a fundamental right flowing from Art. 19(l)(a) of the Constitution is now well-settled. Over the years, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled in favour of the citizen’s right to know. The nature of this right and the relevant restrictions thereto, has been discussed by the Supreme Court in a number of cases:

In Bennett Coleman (1), the right to information was held to be included within the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Art. 19(1) (a).

  • In Raj Narain (2),I the Court explicitiy stated that it is not in the interest of the public to ‘cover with a veil of secrecy the common routine business… the responsibility of officials to explain and. to justify their acts is the chief safeguard against oppression and corruption.’
  • In S.P. Gupta(3), I the right of the people to know about every public act, and the details of every public transaction undertaken by public functionaries was described.
    • In Cricket Association of Bengalj4l the right to impart and receive information from electronic media was included in the freedom of speech. The airwaves were held to be public property and hence distribution of these waves between government and private channels was to be done on an equitable basis.

In P.U.C.L.,I the right to information was further elevated to the status of a human right, necessary for making governance transparent and accountable. It was also emphasized that governance must be participatory. As can be seen, the above judgments cut across freedom of the individual, privacy, freedom of the press, duties of Governments, duties of public authorities, right to seek disclosure of information about candidates contesting  in elections and so on and so forth and also to the exceptions contained in Art. 19(2) of the Constitution.

Right to Information Act at final stage: CA

Chief Adviser (CA) Fakhruddin Ahmed yesterday said his government, considering the importance of books in national life, is keen to formulate a new book policy to give a boost to the publication of books and their local and international marketing.

The government, he said, is sincere in ensuring free flow of information in the country and has already taken an initiative to formulate a right to information act, now at the final stage.

The head of the caretaker government made the remarks while inaugurating the month-long “Amar Ekushey Book Fair 2008″ and the month-long programme of Bangla Academy on its premises in the afternoon.

Terming Bangla Academy the symbol of nation’s intellect, Fakhruddin said formulation of a time-befitting law for running the academy is under active consideration of the government.

“I will try to make the law as early as possible,” he said, adding that the activities of Bangla Academy would get further momentum with the implementation of the new law.

The CA urged all to turn the country into a prosperous nation, well developed in knowledge and quality.

Earlier, at the beginning of the programme, a one-minute silence was observed paying homage to the language martyrs.

Cultural Affairs Adviser Rasheda K Chowdhury, Bangla Academy Director General Prof Syed Mohammad Shahed and President of Bangladesh Book Publishers and Sellers Association Md Abu Taher also spoke at the inaugural function presided over by Bangla Academy President Prof M Harun-or-Rashid.

This time special arrangements have been made with increasing number of entry and exit points at the book fair along with special entry points for women and children. Some bookstalls have also been set up inside Surhrawardy Udyan, just opposite to Bangla Academy.

The CA said through the book policy guidelines, writing and publication of books and their marketing both at domestic and foreign markets will be accelerated.

Besides, he observed, the policy guidelines will have positive contributions to making the common people of the country more knowledgeable and involving them in nation-building activities through developing reading habit.

About the right to information, the CA said any citizen has the right to get information from any government and private organisation. Directives have already been given to various government, semi-government and autonomous organisations for the formulation of a citizen’s charter, he added.

Transparency and accountability of the government institutions can be ensured to the people through this charter, the CA said.

He hoped that the right to information act will have an epoch making influence in building a well disciplined, creative and knowledge based society, free from corruption and terrorism.

Fakhruddin stressed the need for building up an intellectual movement for promoting reading habit at the juncture of flourishing democracy and a new awakening in national life.

In the present competitive era, the CA said the country’s people, including intellectuals, poets, litterateurs, scientists, technologists and cultural activists, have important role to play in the building of an enlightened, dignified nation.

Mentioning the importance of the book fair on the occasion of Ekushey, he said the authorities concerned could consider participation by international book publishers in the fair in the future. As a result, Amar Ekushey Book Fair will also turn into an international event in keeping with the emergence of Ekushey as International Mother Language Day.

Referring to the ideals and spirit of the Language Movement, Fakhruddin said it is an undeniable fact that book is the preserver of civilisation. Books are the embodiment of entire life – of human thoughts and ideas, sorrows and happiness, and hopes and aspirations.

Academics, writers, publishers, poets, book readers and eminent personalities as well as fellows and life members of Bangla Academy were present at the inaugural function.

After speech, the CA formally declared the book fair open by cutting ribbon. Later, he went round some bookstalls at the fair.

 Peoples Right to Information and IFI accountability

A meeting was organized by VOICE and Borendra Unnayan Procesta (BUP), a local NGO on `Peoples Right to Information: IFI’s accountability’ on 17 March 2008 at the Rajshahi Gender Development Resource Centre (GDRC). The meeting was attended by NGO activists, journalists and different professional groups. Fayezullah Chowdhury, Executive Director of BUP, acted as a moderator and Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, executive Director of VOICE, presented as a key speaker at the meeting.

Ahmed Swapan Mahmud asserted that people have a rightst to access information and our present government has agreed about this issue in order to disseminate information. Financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and World Trade Organization (WTO) are not accountable to disseminate all information to the people. People have not even have the right to file a case against them. People in Rajshahi are not informed about the strategies of the projects implemented in their locality. People have no participation in the design of projects, which are made by consultants.

Several recommendations were made at the meeting which are as follows:

  • Investigation report must come out within a certain time.
    Policy makers should be responsible for any kind of implementation policy.
    Anyone should have the right to access the information of certain organizations.
    The WTO and IMF must disseminate all their information to all.
    Before implementing any project in a locality, the people must take part in the strategic planning.

The project goals and objectives should be clear to all and any kind of corporate activities i.e. business in the name of development should be removed.
Projects which seem to counter the development of the poor and / or environment etc. must be stopped.

Towards the Right To Information law in Bangladesh

The need for right to information in Bangladesh has not been more compelling than before. As one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world, Bangladesh appears in urgent need of an effective right to information law which can help to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, improve its progress with development, and reduce endemic corruption.
Civil society in India, the largest country in South Asia, is in a jubilant mood following the central government’s enactment of its national Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005. The move marks a watershed following over a decade of lobbying and serious advocacy work by civil society groups. During this period, they have applied pressure on New Delhi to adopt the act, which now provides every citizen with the legal right to access information on all government matters, making governance more transparent, accountable, and participatory.

India’s enactment of the law may now motivate its South Asian neighbours to follow its lead. In particular, Bangladesh has yet to draft a Right to Information bill, but the government has taken small steps towards this goal, not least the publication in 2002 of the Law Commission Working Paper on the proposed national Right to Information Act.While the Bangladesh government is currently scrutinising the Law Commission review of the draft law, it must be remembered that while even as the paper was a welcome step towards recognising the right to information for Bangladesh’s citizens, the proposed draft still falls short of international best practice and needs to be revised before it is taken forward, and it is here that the civil society and the media can take the lead for the enactment of a right to information law in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has for long been heavily reliant on external donor aid contributions, which play a vital role in advancing the country’s economic development. Much of the failure of development strategies to date can partly be attributable to the fact that they were designed and implemented in a closed environment — between governments and donors and without much input from civil society.

An effective RTI regime would oblige governments to disclose their relationships with donors and equip civil society with a compelling means to force the government to involve its citizens in formulating development strategies that determine their livelihoods. This was also one of the recommendations in the Poverty Reduction Strategy paper prepared by the government of Bangladesh in 2004 and therefore it is pertinent that development aid is linked to reduction of secrecy in governance which can happen when an access regime is in place.An open access regime can also help promote sustainable long-term growth. RTI can help to foster good governance principles of transparency and accountability that can spread to the functioning of the Bangladeshi economy. Markets, like governments, do not function well in secret, thus the culture of openness promulgated in an effective RTI law can encourage the development of a political and economic environment more conducive to the free market principles of “perfect information” and “perfect competition.”

Transparent markets can then generate greater investor confidence, bolstering both local and foreign investment in the economy, leading to stronger, more sustainable growth. Moreover, RTI can ensure that growth is equitably distributed so that it can lift people out of poverty as well as drive commercial development because it gives all citizens the recourse to access information and can thus, for example, uncover corruption which may have led to the skimming off of anti-poverty funds.

RTI can also act as a powerful tool that can be used to strengthen state stability, reduce conflict, and nurture democratic governance. More specifically, it can be a vital tool in helping reduce disillusionment among sections of society who believe that they are unable to meet their basic needs and freedoms because they have been marginalised by an unaccountable and corrupt government and political system. Openness and information sharing contribute to national stability by establishing a two-way dialogue between citizens and the state, reducing distance between government and the people and thereby combating feelings of alienationAlthough the enactment of a RTI law is the government’s prerogative, as demonstrated in India’s example, civil society groups must be actively involved in raising both political and public awareness at all levels of society about the benefits of such a right. In this way, they can generate substantial pressure on the government to adopt RTI legislation. Bangladesh has a thriving civil society, made up of a number of political organisations, labour unions and interest groups that operate at all levels of society. Thus, it is important for these groups to take up the RTI cause not only to promote awareness but also to ensure that when the government drafts the law, it meets international best practice and norms by incorporating the key principles as set out below.A well crafted law should be based on the principle of maximum disclosure and minimum exceptions. This means that there should be a presumption in favour of access. Those bodies covered by the act therefore have an obligation to disclose information and every member of the public has a corresponding right to receive information. Any person at all should be able to access information under the legislation, whether a citizen or not.

The key aim of any exception from the law should be to protect and promote the public interest. The law should therefore not allow room for a refusal to disclose information that will allow the government to protect itself from embarrassment or the exposure of wrongdoing. The list of exemptions should be short and other laws should not be permitted to extend them. They should also be subject to a blanket “public interest override” — whereby a document which is presumed exempt under the act should still be disclosed if the public interest in the specific case requires it.In order to ensure that maximum disclosure takes place in practice, the definition of what is covered by the act should be drafted broadly. Enshrining a right to access “information” rather than only “records” or “documents” is therefore preferred. Furthermore, the act should not limit access only to information held by public bodies but should also cover private ones as is the case of South African act.

All public bodies should be required to establish open, accessible internal systems that facilitate information disclosure for the public. Likewise, provisions that mandate the need for appropriate record keeping and management systems should be included in the law so that information can easily be found.

Lastly, an effective enforcement provisions ensure the success of access legislation. Anybody denying access must provide reasons.Since 2002, after the working paper on Right to Information was submitted and circulated, Bangladesh has failed to make any substantial inroads towards adopting a RTI law, and in the absence of any law, it has been the media that has been making the government accountable for its actions.While the Law Minister Moudud Ahmed in a seminar on “Right to Information” organised by the Dhaka University Journalists’ Association recently announced that the government was considering to amend the Official Secrets Act, 1923, as a small step towards an access regime in Bangladesh, however civil society and the media must now take up the RTI cause with vigour and create awareness about the importance of having such a law and also advocate with the policy makers for drafting a better law without which the whole idea of information seeking would be meaningless.

Mass media promotion on zinc treatment through BTV & Bangladesh Betar

In an effort to promote the use of zinc in addition to oral saline for the treatment of childhood diarrhoea, the SUZY project along with its mass media partner, Dhansiri Media Production House, produced programmes for the electronic media. The programmes are being aired on the state-owned television channel Bangladesh Television (BTV) and radio station Bangladesh Betar. Considering the wide network of these two public sector channels in Bangladesh, the SUZY team preferred to broadcast the programmes on these channels to spread the benefit of zinc treatment in conjunction with oral rehydration solution (ORS) for diarrhoea among under-five children to every corner of the country. These two networks will reach the largest volume of viewers and radio listeners.

For the television viewers, the project has developed a health show focusing on child health. The programme is entitled “Baby Zinc Shonamoni.” This 13-episode health show is being aired on Bangladesh Television every Tuesday. Each episode deals with a different child-related issue. Besides diarrhoea and zinc, the other topics of the programme are child friendly environment, child psychology, education, entertainment, nutrition, hygiene, games, vaccination, disabled children, junk food and crowded population.

Each episode of the health show has a discussion segment (like a talk show) with two experts on the topic of that day, interviews with parents from both low income and middle income groups on childcare and also interviews with celebrity parents regarding their children.

The programme also highlights information on children’s products like toys, books, clothing, and furniture as well as amusement parks for entertainment of children in its “Lifestyle Guide” section. Anchored by popular TV artiste Tania Ahmed, the health show has another section named “Home Video.” The clippings telecast in this section have been collected from parents who informally captured their children’s funny and sweet moments on video camera at home.

 To capture the attention of radio listeners, the project developed a 24-episode programme “Baby Zinc Hashi Khushi Shishu (Baby Zinc Happy Children).” The programme is comprised of popular songs and a 24-episode drama serial with messages on childhood diarrhoea, ORS and zinc. The last section of each episode of the programme is a question and answer session, during which eminent paediatricians in the country reply to the questions on childhood diarrhoea sent in by the listeners. The following page depicts these frequently asked questions along with the answers.

EC receives code of conduct for mass media from UNESCO

The Election Commission is going to hand the print and electronic media a code of conduct to abide by in covering the parliamentary and upazila elections so that a sense of accountability and propriety is maintained. In the meantime, the commission has received a draft copy of the code of conduct for the mass media on election coverage from the UNESCO and it would finalise the media rules within a week after necessary vetting.
UNESCO country representative Malama Meleisea Tuesday handed over the draft code of conduct to Chief Election Commissioner Dr ATM Shamsul Huda at BIAM auditorium. Election Commissioners M Sohul Hussain and Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain and were present on the occasion.

In his speeches, the CEC urged the mass media not to publish election results before those are announced by the Election Commission to avert confusion.
“Problems and confusions may arise if the election results are announced by the media before the Commission’s announcement.” He said the code of conduct for the mass media would be made in consultation with political parties, civil society members and media personnel for covering the next parliamentary and local-body elections-now set for December 18 and 28 respectively.

The UN agency’s draft code of conduct says the mass media shall disseminate all information and news in connection with the election process in a balanced and fair manner, without being biased.

Bangladesh centre for development, journalism & communication.

Title: Sahayak Pathh Compiled by: Bangladesh Centre for Development, Journalism and Communication (BCDJC) The book, a compilation of journalistic articles, was originally developed by BCDJC under its Six-Town Training Programme on Journalism. The compilation, encompassing 40 write-ups by best-known academicians and journalists in Bangladesh, focuses on almost everything in journalism ranging from the definition of news to problems in reporting from rural level in Bangladesh.
Most of the articles are so organised, lucid and reinforced by modest but penetrating analytical insights that they must have telling effects on leaners and readers.

Title: Dainik Sangbadpatrey Anusandhani Protivedan (Investigative Reporting in Daily Newspapers of Bangladesh) Author: Ali Riaz and Zafrin J. Chowdhury First Edition: March 1995

Reports of a content analysis, conducted by Researcher Dr. Ali Riaz, Assistant Professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka, and Ms. Zafrin J. Chowdhury, Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, University of Rajshahi, on investigative reports in Bangladesh newspapers. The analysis purposive sampling basis for a span of one month (i e October 30, 1994). The researchers followed two systems of data collection-crude reading and direct enquiry method for better understanding of both the manifest and latent significance of investigative reports in the country.

Title: Bangladesh Journalism Review Vol. 1 No. 1 Editor: Nayeemul Islam Khan First Edition: September 1996

Bangladesh Centre for Development, Journalism and communication (BCDJC) launched the publication of BJR to monitor the performance of media by engaging the conscious section of society in asserting its moral authority and thus keep the media accountable to their audience. The writings of the first issue of BJR by the celebrities of Bangladesh journalism are built on the central theme of accuracy in reporting and exposes the readers a clear-eyed vision needed to come terms with the problems of maintaining accuracy in reporting.

Title: Bangladesh Journalism Review Vol. 1 No. 2 Editor: Nayeemul Islam Khan First Edition: December 1996

The articles of the second issue of BJR revolve round the central theme- Access to Information. Fourteen articles in both Bangla and English emphasise the need for access to information-“the vital breath of Democracy”¾ to establish transparency and accountability in society as well as raise the standard of journalism in Bangladesh.

Title: Bangladesher Sangbadpatre Smaraniya Protivedan (Memorable reports in the Bangladesh press) Editor: Nayeemul Islam Khan First Edition: December 1998

The book, a compilation of memorable news-stories published in the Bangladesh press in the last 25 years since independence, is a journalistic mosaic of Bangladesh society.

The stories, culled from different sources, promises to be an invaluable help to the students of journalism at different universities as resourceful reference of interpretative and investigative reports dug out in Bangladesh.

Title: Sangbadpatre Santras O Shikhhangan Researcher: Kh. Ali Ar Raji First Edition: August 1996

The work shows that newspaper, in general, carry trivial incidents of violence on composes, whereas many serious incidents outside campuses mostly go unnoticed. Besides, newspapers pay more attention to gunfight, clashes, picketing, and processions of student organisations than academic issues. The common man, who mostly depend on newspapers for campus news, however understand that the portrayal of campuses by the press is lop-sided and partial.

Title: Dainik Sangbadpatre Paribesh Bishak item: Akti Samikkha (Study on environmental stories in newspapers)

The study shows that newspapers in Bangladesh come up with a number of stories on environmental issues daily. But most of the stories lack in depth and partially present the issues they intend to. In sum, newspapers response to environmental concerns Falls Far back the priority Bangladesh attaches to environment.

Title: Bangladesh Journalism Review Third Issue Theme: Women and Media  Editor: Nayeemul Islam Khan First Published: August 1998

The issue, containing articles by mass media specialists and veterans in journalism from home and abroad, tries to probe the causes into women’s low status in journalism. The though provoking articles would, of course, draw the attention of the readers.

Title: Bangladesh Journalism Review Fourth Issue Theme: Media Hereafter Editor: Nayeemul Islam Khan First Published: June 1998

The articles of the issue Focuses on the Future of print media in the next millennium in view of striking development in media technology. The issue is also a nice read on Journalism in Bangladesh perspective

If the mass media intend to report on the result and findings of an opinion poll, the code of conduct suggests, they must do so accurately and fairly. They should include all readily available information which would assist the public in understanding the significance of the poll or the projection.

Problem and Recommendation of mass media and right to information:


The mere existence of the laws does not ensure their appropriate implementation and functioning. Adopting freedom of information laws is part of a culture shift that can take time(sometimes a very long time) to change the mindsets of all the parties involved. In other places, the laws themselves are not adequate. Finally, there has been some withdrawing of openness due to internal resistance or external factors such as the “war on terror”. In some countries, the problem is based on weaknesses in the law.

In Italy, the 1990 law on Administrative Procedure limits access to “stakeholders” who have a “direct, practical, and actual interest based on a legally regulated case in relation to the document for which access is required In Austria, the broadly defined exemptions in the law have led commentators to describe the right of access as “often illusory”. 18 The Spanish Law on the Legal Regime of Public Administration and the Common Administrative Procedure gives citizens a right to access files and records held by authorities but the Spanish government does not recognize it as a freedom of information act and a study found that requests are not answered. 19 other countries, the problem is often related to more fundamental difficulties with freedom of expression. In Tajikistan, a monitoring project found that basic information, including the number of persons sick from typhoid fever, anthrax, brucellosis and flu, statistics of divorce cases, the number of suicides, funds spent for events on the Day of Youth, the total amount of drugs seized by the police, bathing deaths and natural disasters, was being denied.20 In Uzbekistan, since the incident in Andijan, access about what happened there has been limited.

In a number of countries where FOl laws have been in place, there have been additional restrictions on access to information following the terrorist attacks in September 2001. In the US, there has been considerable controversy over reductions in access to information since 2001. These include new guidelines from the Attorney General which reverse the presumption of openness and include withdrawal of information from government web sites, increased use of “Sensitive but Unclassified” categories that limit access and limits on access based on the claim of “Executive Privilege” — i.e. where the executive has the inherent right to withhold information to protect its internal decision making.2 1 There are also continuing problems with extended delays for responses and the failure to implement the 1996 Electronic FOIA amendments. However, the current Congress is in the process of adopting amending legislation to resolve these problems, it would see the most far reaching changes to the law since 1974.22 In a few countries where the laws are relatively new, governments have again sought to limit them. A few of the recent cases:

  • In Ireland, amendments to the Freedom of Information Act imposing high fees on applications and appeals have reduced the use of the act significantly. The changes have had an especially strong effect on the media, whose requests declined by 83 percent between 2003 and 2004.23
  • In the UK the government expects a pending proposal to impose fees significantly to reduce media use of the FOl Act.24 The Lord Chancellor said: “Freedom of information was never considered to be, and for our part will never be considered to be, a research arm for the media”.25
  • In Bulgaria, the government has proposed amendments to require that some requestors show that they are “interested persons” and would extend timeframes and increase fees.


– All States should adopt freedom of information legislation that gives a legal right to all persons and organizations to demand and obtain information from public bodies and those who are performing public functions. Individuals should also have a right to access and correct all personal information held about themselves. – Public bodies should be required in law to respond promptly to all requests for information. Requests for information that are time-sensitive or relate to an imminent threat to health or safety should be responded to immediately. The process for requesting information should be simple and free or low-cost.

– Some information of a sensitive nature may be subject to withholding for a limited, specified time for the period it is sensitive. The exemptions should be limited in scope. The official who wishes to withhold the information must identify the harm that would occur for each case of withholding. The public interest in disclosure should be considered in each case. In cases where information may be deemed sensitive by any other law, the FOI law must have precedence

– There should be an adequate mechanism for appealing each refusal to disclose. This should include having an independent oversight body such as an Ombudsman or Commission which can investigate and order releases. The body should also promote and educate on freedom of information, information

about their structures, personnel, activities, rules, guidance, decisions, procurement, and  other information of public interest on a regular basis in formats including the use of ICTs and in public reading rooms or libraries to ensure easy and widespread access.

– There should be sanctions available in cases where it is shown than an official or

body is deliberately withholding information in violation of the law.

The right to information is important for many reasons. Chief among these is the contribution it makes towards:

  1. i) Creating a more open and democratic society

2) Reducing poverty (achieving the Millennium Development Goals)

3) Challenging corruption and enhancing transparency

  1. Creating a more democratic and open society There can be no democratic participation in decision-making without transparency and sharing information. Secretive government is nearly always inefficient in that the free flow of information is essential if problems are to be identified and resolved. Furthermore, a secretive governing culture fosters suspicion and encourages rumours and conspiracy theories. In such a culture, the public is likely to treat all government information with scepticism including public education campaigns for example, those dealing with important health issues like HWIAIDS or those, which may be particularly sensitive. People are more likely to be politically malleable, sceptical of government and its intentions, and resistant to change unless sanctioned by informal opinion leaders.

2 Reducing poverty and achieving the MDGs Right to information legislation is fundamental in furthering the development of society and in eradicating poverty. Effective anti-poverty programmers require accurate information on problems hindering development to be in the public domain. Meaningful debates also need to take place around the policies designed to tackle the problems of poverty. Information can empower poor communities to battle the circumstances in which they find themselves and help balance the unequal power dynamic that exists between people marginalized through poverty and their governments. This transparent approach to working also helps poor communities to be visible on the political map so that their interests can be advanced. The right to information is therefore central to the achievement of the MDGs.

3 Challenging corruption Right to information laws are critical tools in the fight against corruption, which allows inefficiency to thrive and distorts the potential for growth. Although corruption exists in all societies, it has a particularly pernicious effect on less developed countries. Corruption discourages foreign investment and eats away at the budgets allocated to public procurements, which enable basic infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals to be built. It also debilitates political institutions by reducing public confidence in their operation. If unbridled corruption continues to infect a society or political system, it may eventually lead to social unrest due to the division it creates between those who have easy access to goods and services and those who remain excluded. It is the poor who always bear the greatest burden of a corrupt society. If the public administration must publish regular accounts, including the particulars of specific deals that have been negotiated; if companies are forced to set out their side of the arrangement, and business is agreed with the expectation that the details will one day come to light, the margin for corrupt activity is dramatically reduced. The result is that with more information in the hands of the citizens, even where corruption persists, it can be exposed and eliminated.


With the restoration of democratic order, press in Bangladesh enjoys complete freedom today. During 1997-98. there were more than one thousand newspapers and periodicals including 286 dailies in the country, which is much higher than the corresponding figures of 1990. Total circulation of newspapers and periodicals exceeds 2 million. Both Bangla and English language dailies and periodicals are read widely.  Foreign and local news agencies inc1uding state-owned Bangladesh Sanghad Sangstha are operating in Bangladesh.

Government Departments such as Press Information Department. Department of Films and Publications. Department of Mass Communication. Bangladesh Films Archive. Film Censor Board, Press Council, Press Institute, Film Development Corporation and National Institute of Mass Communication are organs of the Ministry of Information which deal with various media-related activities of the government.

The External Publicity Wing under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs looks after the overseas publicity functions of the Government through Bangladesh Missions abroad. In line with the Privatization Policy, the government has closed down state-owned newspapers in 1997.

State-owned Bangladesh Betar (Radio) has a countrywide network with 10 regional stations. Betar’s external service is beamed towards Europe. Middle East, Pakistan, India and Nepal in 7 languages.

Bangladesh Television (BTV) has undergone rapid expansion since its inception in 1964. It has two stations at Dhaka and Chittagong and 11 relay stations throughout the country. BTV has already commissioned a second channel for private sector operators. As per the govt. policy of free flow of information, free use of dish antenna is allowed for receiving foreign television programs via satellite.

The public sector media organizations have taken resolute measures to rectify the distortions which have crept into the national history between 1975 -l996.

Bangladesh people have the right to information as part of the rights to live in a democratic society. To exercise this right citizens must be able to gather information at home and abroad.

As consequence to the right of information, citizens have four broad rights, such as they must find it possible to publish or relate otherwise the information thus acquired without prior restraint or censorship by government, they must be free to declare or print without fear of punishment, they must possess the means of using or acquiring implements of publication, and they should have freedom to distribute and disseminate without obstruction by government or by their fellow citizens.

Freedom to speak and write about public issues is as important to the life of democratic government as is heart to the human body. In fact, this privilege is the heart of accountability of government. If that heart is weakened, the result is death, so said American Justice Black in 1940 in the case of Milk Wagon Drivers Union vs Meadowmoor Dairies.

Another American Judge Felix Frankfurter in 1941 in the case of <>Bridges vs California<>, ruled that “because freedom of public expression alone assures the unfolding of truth, it is indispensable to the democratic process.” What the Judge implied that unfolding truth emanates from the right to information.

The origin and evolution of the idea that the public has the right to information have less to do with constitutional history than with the taxpayer’s right to information how government spends their money in running the country.

The right to information is a clear sign of the desire for knowledge. The demand for openness is a clear sign of democratic pressure. Through history the demand has had to be conceded partially and bit by bit. Successive Kings were forced by this means to concede the right to information, first to the feudal lords, and then to the gentry, the merchants and later to public in order to stave off the revolts against their power.

Later the struggle to secure the admission of the press to the House of Commons and bring about the publication of Hansard reflected the demand of the voters the right to information what their MPs were doing in their name in the Parliament. The members of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, as citizens, partake and share in this right to information in their own names and as editors, reporters and writers they act, besides, as agents of other citizens whose right to information they invoke.

The development of parliamentary democracy, universal education and the growth of the mass media have all increased the range of public understanding through right to information about government, industry and have in turn reinforced democracy.

While the public has the right to information, it is acknowledged that there are certain matters which are subject to secrecy. The argument of secrecy is basic and runs like this. Every country is vulnerable to external attack and internal subversion and its defence requires it to prepare plans against these possibilities. Thus preparations must be kept behind the tightest veil of secrecy. The logic of this argument is reasonable and few will challenge it.

But having said that, the limits of secrecy have to be carefully defined to avoid a situation in which any and every action of government is justified by reference to security. Every dictator in history has always found that an appeal to security is a simplest way to win public acquiescence for his tyranny or dictatorship.

It is common knowledge that strong armed forces that are built up to resist foreign aggression could then be used to suppress discontent arising from legitimate demands for human rights at home. Similarly, an internal security apparatus is established in the guise of defending a free society and then becomes an instrument for eroding freedom in the society it is intended to defend. There is always the risk that internal security measures could be abused to deal with political opponents and critics of government.

All these distortions of security can themselves be concealed behind the very veil of secrecy which the needs of security are supposed to justify. The balance between freedom including the right to information and security poses difficulty in democracy.

In the US, former Senator and Vice President Walter Mondale was a member of a Committee to inquire into the conduct of the security services during the Nixon administration and his report is illuminating as to how secrecy has been abused. He wrote in the report:

” There was massive invasion of privacy. For years FBI and CIA illegally tapped phones and engaged in other forms of electronic surveillance. The FBI and CIA both opened the private of American citizens. The mail of people such as Kennedy was opened. The law did not matter.” The US has now made a serious effort to open up discussion of the proper limits of secrecy in a democratic society.

Freedom of Information legislation is a key to implement the right to information. Sensitive to growing political pressures for governmental openness, almost all Western democratic countries have enacted Freedom of Information laws. India did it in 2003.

Bangladesh is a democratic country and Article 11 of the Bangladesh Constitution makes it clear. Consistent with the democratic principles, it is suggested that Bangladesh Parliament may enact the Freedom of Information legislation to provide the public the right to information in any matter in governmental activities.

The sooner the law is enacted, the better will be the country’s image for its transparency and accountability. Secrecy is the great enemy of democracy and the right to information is to safeguard basic liberties in a democratic country.

The mass media laws in Bangladesh have an overall trend to curtail the liberty of the press, particularly so far as the enactment of The Special Power Ac is concerned and its continuance. The deviation made in practice in respect of authentication of declaration under the Printing Presses and Publications Declaration and Registration Act of 1973 also shows the trend of limiting the publication of news papers and periodical by the Government.

Mass media can thrive properly under a democratic system. Democracy plays a vital role in the growth of mass media laws beneficial to the people. In Bangladesh, the prospect of mass media cannot be said to be blurred since the people, the journalist and all are striving for a democratic.

So it may not a wild dream to expert the growth of mass media in Bangladesh free from all shackles and bondage in future.

The Eastern European case studies provided in this article demonstrate how the development and selective support of independent media outlets may be used as one important part of an array of foreign policy tools that are used by neoliberal elites to promote polyarchy through the ouster of ‘unfriendly’ governments (be they authoritarian or democratic). In part this helps explain why progressive social movements challenging the status quo in Western democracies are so regularly denigrated, while those groups whose interests are more easily incorporated into, already aligned with, or of marginal importance to the policy frameworks of powerful political and economic elites are more readily supported by the media. This occurs because the media in the West are powerful corporate actors themselves and are staunch defenders of the status quo, and their interests are one and the same as those of transnational capitalism. Consequently, it is readily apparent that Western media systems are not fulfilling their democratic role within Western societies, and are in fact acting instead in ways that work to undermine popularly understood conceptions of democracy. In the light of this information, social movement activists need to start seriously thinking about how they might improve the (often anti-democratic) mainstream media they are forced to operate within, as Robert McChesney notes:

“…regardless of what a progressive group’s first issue of importance is, its second issue should be media and communication, because so long as the media are in corporate hands, the task of social change will be vastly more difficult, if not impossible, across the board.”

In the US, media reform groups are already on the rise (see www.freepress.org), but in other countries the signs of change are less promising. So now is the time for social movements from across the board to work together in solidarity, to support independent, or what might be more accurately termed autonomous media, so they may begin to focus their efforts on the urgent task of global media reform.

Each group may opt for different tactics, but together they need to collaborate on a common project that serves to democratise the mainstream media. In fact, media reform may be the one issue that can unite all progressive social movements in a “broadly resonant counter hegemonic discourse” that may enable them to overcome their differences and allow them to begin to work together against the antidemocratic discourse of neoliberalism for a progressive and equitable new world order.

This article was presented as a peer-reviewed paper at the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre’s conference titled: “Convergence, Citizen Journalism & Social Change: Building Capacity” (Brisbane, Australia, March 26-28, 2008). The referenced paper with all references can be found here. Michael Barkers other articles can be found here.