Journalists from five countries came together to learn more about how they can use RTI when they investigate stories on mining, oil and gas.
OsloMet joined forces with Article 19 and Makerere University and conducted a regional workshop on how journalists can use the Right to public information (RTI) when investigating stories in extractive industries such as mining, energy and fisheries.
The workshop was held in Kampala, Uganda, with participants from South Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. The trainers came from the same countries, and Norway as well.
All these countries now have laws that in theory ensures the rights of journalists and others to access vast amounts of official documents on such industrial projects from their governments. But at the workshop, experienced reporters from all of these countries shared common experiences, indicating that there is an immense gap between legislative texts and implementation of the same laws.
The result is that journalists seldom have all the documents at disposal for their reporting, which as they would have had, if the RTI laws worked the way they are supposed to.
Sandra Musoga, a legal expert who works for Article 19 Eastern Africa, lectured on the legal differences between the RTI laws in the region. Rune Ytreberg from the Norwegian business daily (Dagens Næringsliv) shared a lot of practical tools and open databases relating to the extractive industries. Tarjei Leer-Salvesen (affiliated with JMIC, working for the regional daily Fædrelandsvennen) focused on how journalists can gain advantage by using RTI-tools across borders and also make use of international tools such as the Aarhus Convention on environmental information.
Four of these five East African countries have central mechanisms for overseeing that the RTI law is working. The information commissions and ombudsmen will consider complaints from journalists and others who do not get access to the information they have requested.
Uganda, however, has no such mechanism in place. In Uganda, a journalist who is denied access to public information, must take her case to a magistrate court, and in some cases to a high court. Chapter Four is an organisation with a lot of experience in the field in Uganda, and they gave an insightful presentation about the challenges this procedure represents.
Unlike Norway, where filing RTI requests are free of charge, these processes are costly in all the East African nations. And in Uganda, the process of complaining through the court system, can be a time consuming process.