Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said access to knowledge is indispensable in a democratic society and expressed hope that people will soon be able to have more confidence when choosing their leaders once the new draft law on information access is passed.
“Universal access to information is an indispensable right in a participatory democracy,” he said in a video message to commemorate the 2021 International Day of Universal Access to Information on September 28.
“This is to guarantee that the people’s choice at election-time is an informed one when they make big decisions like selecting their leaders and thereby affirming or rejecting the leadership’s policies being used to steer the government,” he said.
He said that because of the acknowledged importance of open access to information, the government had instructed the ministry to compose the draft law with wide participation from a full-range of stakeholders.
The draft law has now been finalised and is awaiting the final review by the Ministry of Justice to ensure that it is in accord with the Constitution before being submitted to the National Assembly for a vote, Kanharith said.
This year, the ministry – together with UNESCO, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the Department of Media and Communication (DMC) at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, and various civil society organisations – celebrated the day under the pandemic-era theme of “The Right to Know – Building Back Better with Access to Information”.
In a press release on September 27, UNESCO said access to information is the key to greater access to data and knowledge and to empower people to build a better future.
UNESCO director-general Audrey Azulay called on governments around the world to pass laws guaranteeing access to information to ensure that people can make informed decisions based on healthy and safe information and fully enjoy basic human rights.
“Access to reliable information saves lives. Misinformation and rumours can end lives. This simple lesson is one we have learnt to our detriment in recent years,” she said.
“Whether fighting a global pandemic or supporting public debate, we need free, reliable and independent information as the foundation upon which democratic societies are built,” she added.
The Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia (UJFC) said in a statement on September 28 that the value of the press should be judged not only by its level of “independence” but also by its overall accuracy and commitment to the truth. Only factual information, it said, is valuable for making the right decisions or for saving lives and solving social problems.
“The access to information and the right to use information must be linked to the ethics of its dissemination, which must be done judiciously and responsibly and in furtherance of our national cause.
“We must also have a unified national spirit where we exercise our rights and abilities to access information to advance the cause of our nation and not in service to any foreign ideology,” said the UJFC’s statement.