Academic research: The right to information under debate

by Mohamed Khalil Jelassi

The right to information is a fundamental principle in many democratic societies. It recognises the right of individuals to access relevant and necessary information in order to participate effectively in social, political and economic life. This right is often seen as a pillar of freedom of expression and open government. But in Tunisia, it is often confused with the right of access to information, two related but different concepts.

It is in this context that the Media Development Center (MDC) recently presented its new collective work entitled “Le droit du citoyen ร  l’information, fondement des droits et libertรฉs de l’information”.

The book, which brings together contributions from fifteen Tunisian academics and professionals, focuses on the right to information as a constitutional right. The book addresses several aspects of this right, from its legal conception itself to the investigative press, access to information, government communication and many other issues.

At a workshop to present the book, Abdelkrim Hizaoui, President of the MDC, said that its aim was to give substance to this new human right, which was enshrined in Article 32 of the Constitution in 2014 but did not receive the necessary attention from the parties concerned. “Many projects, such as updating the legislative framework, strengthening regulatory and self-regulatory bodies, and transforming public media into public service media, remain unfinished business and no progress has been made”, he regretted.

The President of MDC stressed the need to define a mechanism, in collaboration with players such as UNESCO, the Press and Information Science Institute (IPSI), the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), the Tunisian Federation of Newspaper Editors (FTDJ) and HAICA, to put the issue of developing the media system on the public authorities’ agenda.

“As the organisation mandated to develop information and communication worldwide, UNESCO, represented by its delegate in Tunisia, Nรฉji Bghouri, has shown itself willing to participate in this initiative”, he noted.

Guaranteeing an informational framework for citizens

The right to information is a right recognised by UNESCO, which provides for access to knowledge. The aim is to ensure that citizens have the information they need to participate effectively in the democratic process and in the decisions that affect their future.

According to the United Nations, the right to information is conceived as “a universal, inviolable and inalienable right of modern man. It is both an active and passive right: on the one hand, the search for information, and on the other, the possibility for all to receive it”.

In many jurisdictions, the right to information is enshrined in specific freedom of information laws. These laws generally guarantee public access to a wide range of government documents and information held by public institutions.

Although it is enshrined in the Constitution of 25 July 2022 in Article 38, “The State guarantees the right to information and the right of access to information”, in Tunisia this right remains dependent on many factors. Although our country adopted the “Organic law on the right of access to information” in March 2016, joining the few Arab countries that also have such legislation, there are still steps to be taken to guarantee the right to information.

Establishing a powerful media system can considerably strengthen this right, agree professionals in the profession. The fact is that the primary environment for the consumption of journalistic and information content, the digital environment, is considerably polluted by misinformation and tends to blur the digital freedoms and rights that are essential for access to information today.

This article was first published in the European Journalism Observatory (EJO).