The Right to Information (RTI) Act has helped Indian journalists unearth sensitive, important and hidden information to break major stories. RTI is a very important tool for journalists, especially in a country like India. Journalism and how it is practised has changed a lot over the decades.
From a state where getting even public information was hard to get, we now have an information overload, with huge volumes of information available a click away.
But information deemed sensitive by rulers is still hard to get. There are also security restrictions and physical barriers to access. However, one thing has remained constant – the big newsbreak goes to the journalist who has access to the right sources, who can get accurate information. RTI is one way to break this barrier. It allows journalists to break news stories without having to suck up to the power-that-be and to get information as a matter of right.
Keeping this in mind, Moneylife Foundation, in partnership with Mumbai Press Club, conducted a special workshop on RTI for journalists. Senior journalist and Founder-Trustee of Moneylife Foundation, Sucheta Dalal started the session about how Moneylife has successfully written investigative stories using RTI applications as an effective tool. One such story was the NSE (National Stock Exchange) defamation suit against Moneylife, where former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi filed several RTI applications to help gather evidence in increasing the pressure and ensuring further investigation.
At the session, Mr Gandhi talked briefly about the RTI Act and how it can be used effectively by journalists in researching and writing stories. Explaining the origin of RTI in democracy, Mr Gandhi stressed upon the importance of swaraj or self-rule in India. He said, “Since we live in a democratic country and which is in fact the world’s largest democracy, it we, who have elected the government and therefore are the badshah and begum. Also as badshah and begum, we not only have rights but we also have some duties.”
Mr Gandhi then explained the detailed procedure for filing an RTI application, the difference between mode of fee acceptable at Central government and state government and word count acceptable in Maharashtra. He also cited real-life examples, where filing of RTI application has actually helped in delivery of better governance. Instead of cribbing on civic issues, one needs to file at least one RTI application every month, he added.
The event at Mumbai Press Club ended with a panel discussion involving Mr Gandhi, Ms Dalal and Samir Zaveri, who is well-known for his work as a Railways activist, using RTI very effectively.