Bangladesh Right to Information Group Meets with U.S. and University Officials

June 22, 2012

Bangladesh’s Right to Information Law, enacted in 2009, is slowly taking root in outlying districts and benefiting residents, the country’s chief information commissioner said last week during a study tour in the Washington, D.C., area.

Muhammad Zamir, speaking at a roundtable discussion July 20 at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, said issues such as the leasing of water bodies have been resolved by the law, and he expected the next generation of adults in Bangladesh to be ambassadors for information disclosure and participate actively in democratic governance.

“For most individuals the law is still hypothetical, but it is starting to have an impact on the lower levels,” said Zamir, who was participating in a study tour on freedom of information organized and sponsored by the Promoting Governance, Accountability, Transparency, and Integrity project in Bangladesh, which is implemented by DAI and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Current efforts focus on responding to information requests as well as creating a demand for exercising the right to information.

“In Bangladesh all students from [grades] 8, 9, and 10 in taking social sciences focus on the right to information law and are provided with a draft [of the law],” Zamir said. “The goal is that these students are the correct age to be taught this information.”

Zamir, a former ambassador, was joined by deputies from the information commission and Bengali journalists. They were hosted by DAI’s Melanie Beth Oliviero and Carmen Lane. U.S. experts on the 45-year-old Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the tensions between national security and public access offered comparative views on the right to information in the United States.

The Bangladesh information law is expected to provide journalists—who are already popular among the general public—with a key tool for encouraging government transparency and accountability.

“Politically, people are very conscious and find journalists to be their friends,” said Shahnaz Munni, chief reporter with ATN Bangla television and one of the study tour participants. “They come to journalists if there is a problem. If there is corruption, they come to us instead of the police. The public trusts journalists more than individuals. Items published in the newspaper have a large impact.”

In addition to the University of Maryland event, which was hosted by the journalism college’s dean, Kevin Klose, and leading journalism faculty, the group was also hosted at the U.S. Departments of State and Justice, the National Archives, USAID, the City Council of the District of Columbia, and FOIA experts from the Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press, the American Bar Association, and the Center for National Security Studies, among others. The delegation was featured July 20 at a brownbag session for staff at DAI headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland.

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