It is your fundamental human right to ask for, and receive, information held by public organisations and bodies.
You might have heard some of these terms: Access to Information (ATI); Freedom of Information (FOI); the Right to Know (R2K); or the Right to Information. Maybe you have heard about access to information laws or maybe you have even made a freedom of information request for public information.
All these terms point to the same idea – it is critically important to make sure information held by public, and in some cases private, institutions is available and accessible to citizens.
Why is access to information important?
The right to seek, access and receive information is a fundamental human right guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 4 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa. It is also recognised in many of the Constitutions of southern African countries.
The right to access information is important because it helps citizens:
You cannot question what you don’t know. Greater access to information increases the transparency of policy making and governance.
Participate in democracy
More informed citizens are able to participate more effectively in their nation’s democratic processes.
Access other social and economic rights
As far back as 1946, the United Nations described access to information as the cornerstone of all freedoms because you need information to exercise other crucial rights such as the right to vote, the right to a clean and healthy environment and the right to make informed choices.
Access education and build their capacity
An informed population can better its situation by converting information into knowledge. To do this, citizens need information literacy skills so they can distinguish between: information and disinformation; public and private information; and what is ethical and what is not.
When citizens can see what information government holds about them, they can also seek correction of that information if they consider it wrong or misleading.