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Research Topic: Right to Information Law in Bangladesh: Is Information Reachable?

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Researcher: Mohammad Ala Uddin
Supervisor: Dr. Sudhangshu Sekhar Roy

The overall aim of the research was to contribute to developing a conceptual framework on
Freedom of Information laws in developing countries and particularly on public policies
addressing the constraints of information society in Bangladesh in view of the country’s
socio-economic and political context.
The specific objectives of the research were:
- Contributing to knowledge on freedom of expression and information in Bangladesh
and on appropriate policy towards promoting information society.
- Explore the measuring indicators that reflect the state of reachability of information.
- Identify the contextual factors that enable or constrain the availability of information
in Bangladesh.
This objective was designed to achieve through an in depth research on the country’s Right to
Information (RTI) Act 2009 with the instrumental purpose of promoting the people’s right to
know and ensuring good governance. The research questions for this study were threefold- a)
to what extent is information accessible in Bangladesh using the RTI law, b) what are the
major factors that define the accessibility of information and c) what are achievable
alternatives to the affecting factors of freedom of information. Information gathered by
qualitative research tools- In-depth interviews, focus group discussions and case studies
provided data for this research.
Empirical data, experiences from RTI countries and primary data helped to reduce the
measuring variables of an information-friendly society. Indicators for understanding a free
information culture are categorized into demand side and supply side. The first includes
literacy and information literacy, awareness, access to media while the latter consists of
physical infrastructure of information resources, media and ICT profile, information
management, democratic culture and political will, compatible RTI legislation and an
inclusive communication strategy.
Key findings of the research are:
The country is suffering from a ‘dearth’ of information resources. If information is not there,
what is to be provided then using RTI law? Already available information is not in accessible
and communicative format.
Secrecy is a ‘culture’ deeply ingrained within the family to social structure of the country. It
is not about the ‘mindset’ problem of only the public officials, but of whole nation. So, the
literal implementation of RTI law is no way enough for bringing changes to a rooted culture.
People in ‘darkness’: General people are really unaware of RTI Act. Even the educated part
of the population does not know such a law exists. More importantly they have found ‘not
seeking information’ as their destiny.

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This is a Master dissertation done by Mohammad Ala Uddin as part of his Regional Master degree in
Journalism, Media and Communication at the University of Dhaka, and the summary of the research was
presented at the Seminar on ‘Freedom of Expression and Conflicting Rights in Bangladesh and Some Other
Countries’, held in Dhaka, 21 May, 2011
RTI law is not fully ‘compatible’ with the spirit of freedom of expression and information.
There is a list of more than 20 contradictory laws, six of which directly discourage or confuse
the public officials.
This research recommends –
- Twofold strategy to address the vacuum of information resources: to immensely
promote the creation of local knowledge and innovations and to undertake a policy of
maximum self-disclosure and transforming the already available information into
people’s accessible and communicable format.

- Horizontal training and motivational programs engaging the key stakeholders of


information to ease the cultural and mindset problems. The central theme of programs
should be ‘how information works to uplift a society or vice versa’.
- Massive awareness campaign with a viable communication strategy to create demands
of information among the citizens. Promotional music, drama, information fair and
festivals both in urban and rural settings can be initiated jointly by government and
non-government initiatives.

- RTI law should be reviewed, amended if necessary and clarified to minimize the
contradiction. Demarcation line for the public officials should be drawn to reduce
insecurity among them. Finally, Information Commission should conduct huge study
and policy research to undertake more effectual strategy towards the smooth
implementation of RTI Act.

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