Journalists have accused public relations practitioners of breaching the law on access to information by withholding information and denying them access to their bosses.
The Rwanda Ombudsman has met with journalists and public relations officers from both public and private institutions at a workshop to discuss the importance of embracing access to information and fostering democratic governance, accountability and transparency.
Journalists blamed public relations officers for withholding information and denying them to meet with their bosses in some government institutions.
Emma Marie Umurerwa a journalist of Igihe said that the reason why public relations officer decline to give information is because they are not self-confident or fear for their bosses.
She says that public relations officers should be given the right and the role to disclose information without necessarily waiting for their bosses. She advised them that in case they do not have the information, they should direct journalists to the one ready to offer it.
Sam Mandela a communication researcher from the office of the Government Spokesperson (OGS), criticised some public relations for not fulfilling their responsibilities and some journalists for not doing their work professionally.
“It is imperative that institutions help journalists to access information in any way, public relations officers should take the lead role, but journalists should also seek information professionally,’ He said.
Cecile Mugeni from the office of the Ombudsman in the department in charge of inspecting the conduct of the county’s senior officials and inspecting the implementation of access to information law said that over the past 6 years, the office of the ombudsman received 20 cases of journalists and other citizens including lawyers.
“Over the past five years since the law on access to information was established, we have received twenty cases of people who had been information including fifteen journalists, two citizens and three lawyers.” Mugeni said.
She added that everyone has the right to information and custodians of information must give it which is why the two sides should work harmoniously in order to abide by the law and fulfil each other’s responsibilities.
However, some information cannot be disclosed including the one that could affect national security as well as the one about investigation conducted by justice institutions.
She also said that every institution or company must have their spokespersons not necessarily their managers or senior officials in order to implement the law.
Mugeni said that anyone who is denied information on public and private institutions for the common interest of citizens must report the case to Ombudsman so that those who have withheld that information be punished for that.
She also talked about the time it takes for someone to get information as well as the deadline for delivery in case an institution or company receives a lot of queries.
“The law says that the deadline is three days, for information regarding health and privacy the deadline is twenty-four hours. For a journalist who seeks information for publication, the deadline is within forty-eight hours. When the institution or company is requested a lot of information, the Ombudsman gives that institution fourteen days to put it together.” She said.
As to the punishment for an institution or company that has refused to release information, article 590 provides the fines of between Rwf100,000 and Rwf500,000.
Asked about to whether those who breached this law were punished, Mugeni accounted that some were summoned by the Ombudsman and were warned not to repeat it, others were dispatched letters and asked to justify themselves.
However, she warns that in case of recurrence offender may be penalised with other provisions in this law.