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'Right To Know' Just an Ideal in the Cooks

'Right To Know' Just an Ideal in the Cooks

By Rachel Reeves

RAROTONGA (Cook Islands News / Pacific Media Watch): The “right to know” is something media relish talking about, as it forms the basis of the fourth estate. Often people forget that as taxpayers, they should be talking about it, too.

Today is International Right to Know Day [September 28], and the world seems to be taking note – or at least paying lip service to – this most basic of human rights, which forms the backbone of good governance and democracy.

The purpose of the occasion is to raise awareness of, and remind people about, every taxpayer’s right to access government-held information about how money is being spent and how decisions are being made.

This year is the 10-year anniversary of International Right to Know Day, which was earmarked in 2002 by freedom of information advocates in Bulgaria.

Their initial meeting gave rise to the FOI (Freedom of Information) Advocates Network, a global coalition working to put pressure on governments to be open, transparent and accountable. Each year members of the network meet to share ideas, strategies, and success stories about the development of freedom of information laws and governance in their respective nations.

The Cook Islands passed its own Official Information Act in February 2009, using New Zealand’s legislation as a model. Hailed as the first Pacific island nation to legislate freedom of information, the government was praised as forward-thinking and pioneering within regional media circles.

But since its implementation, local media have been vocal about the act's failure to change bureaucratic attitudes toward freedom of information.

Cook Islands News managing editor John Woods has called media freedom in the Cook Islands “fragile”, and has referred to the act as "stillborn".

As the chair of the Cook Islands Media Association, he is a champion of the Official Information Act, but believes it has failed to transform ingrained attitudes toward media freedom in the Cook Islands.

“It's sad that we have to isolate and name just one day of the year as 'Right To Know Day'. It should be every day, and this basic human right should be engrained in best practice of government, and of civil society at all levels,” Woods said.

“This right is enshrined in every enlightened constitution in the world, including ours, but we are stuck in a time warp where knowledge is power, and power is reserved for a privileged few. The ideal would be a society where politicians and bureaucrats have nothing to hide, and where transparency is commonplace.”


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