Access to information vital in Covid-19 pandemic
ON April 24, this year High Court judge Justice Mafusire ordered the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services to promote citizens’ access to information pertaining to the Coronavirus.
This follows an urgent chamber application that was filed by MISA Zimbabwe, represented by lawyer Rudo Magundani of Scanlen and Holderness.
The court ordered, with immediate effect, that the respondents should publish and disseminate on all available platforms, the daily COVID-19 updates issued by the Ministry of Health, in all the official languages.
Justice Mafusire, further ordered with immediate effect, and on a regular basis, that the Ministry of Information, shall publish and disseminate on all available platforms and in all official languages the following additional information.
This was seen as a positive way, in responding to the Covid-19 outbreak, as many governments in Africa had taken measures that limit access to information held by public bodies relating to the pandemic and other crucial areas of public interest.
For many of those governments, ensuring public access to information is often not seen as important or as a priority because public functions and services are being reduced or reallocated. For others, secrecy is being imposed to try and limit criticism of poor decision-making or as part of a larger effort to restrict human rights or hide corruption. These limitations violate international law’s obligations on access to information and public health.
This paved the way for other ministries, corporates and NGO’s to publish Covid-19 related information regularly to inform and educate citizen and staff members.
Amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, UNESCO also announced “access to information in times of crisis” as the theme of the 2020 edition of the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), celebrated every year on 28 September.
Commemorated around the slogan “Access to Information – Saving lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope!”, the event will contribute to the exchange of good practices and guidelines on the right to access information. It will highlight the key role of access to information in saving lives and mitigating the impact of crises such as the current pandemic, as well as in shaping sustainable policies.
This comes as Misa Zimbabwe said it was looking forward to compliance and enforcement of the court order by the respective ministries and access to information to all citizens.
Every citizen has the right to comprehensible, accessible, timely and reliable information concerning the nature and level of the threat that COVID-19 poses to their health including evidence-based guidance on how to stay safe.