Can RTI be an alternative to mainstream media?

 

In Sri Lanka, a few people view RTI as a possible alternative to media for truth-seekers. ‘The media is one-sided. We need personal access to information, not just relying on media’, says 27-year-old Rasangika Silva from Nugegoda.

When Right to Information was introduced in India, fear existed amongst journalists about whether or not RTI would become an alternative to mainstream media. Fears were soon quelled once the law was enacted and RTI proved to be useful for media in sourcing information. In fact, citizen use of RTI became newsworthy as stories of success or failure in exercising this civil right.

Rather than a competitor to news, RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak sees media as a key tool to stimulating citizen engagement in RTI. ‘Today if visibility for RTI as a tool is so widespread [in India], the primary credit for that has to go to the media. The RTI law places a responsibility on our central government and state governments to take steps to spread awareness about RTI amongst the citizenry; they have done precious little. What has happened is the media reporting on stories of success and failures that has made RTI not only the buzzword, it has become the watchword.’

Nayak also explained the curious phenomenon of using ‘RTI’ as a verb. ‘People use RTI to tell government or government officials who are lax in their duties or who might have some other designs in terms of making some claims to bribe to deliver some service – they say if this is not done according to the law then I will RTI this matter.’