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Access to information is the cure of disinformation

Sep 28,2021 - Last updated at Sep 28,2021

On Tuesday, we observed the International Day for Universal Access to Information. The theme this year is “The right to know — building back better with access to information”.

Jordan was the first country in the Arab world to adopt a right to information legislation in 2007. Despite strong leadership on this issue, Jordan has faced unique challenges in its implementation with no regional model to follow or best practices to emulate. 

The government of Jordan has become aware of such shortcomings and suggested that it would prepare a new set of amendments designed to bring the law in line with international standards. 

The pandemic has exposed how important it is for the right to access to information to be respected and for accurate reliable information to be freely available for decision-making by both governments and citizens: A win-win situation. 

I recall the story of Maisa, a Jordanian pharmacist, who initially was hesitant about the vaccination and tried to convince others not to get it. She believed that the vaccine was still in the trial phase and doubted its efficacy, among other misinformation spread about the vaccine.

Maisa only changed her mind after participating in the awareness sessions provided in partnership with UN in one of the maternity health centres in Tafileh Governorate, where she lives. There, she had the chance to ask and receive scientific information about the vaccine. 

She not only received the vaccine, but joined the sessions as a facilitator, and managed to convince others to take the vaccine. 

As quick as misinformation spreads, spreading facts and promoting access to information should happen just as fast. 

Misleading or false information undermines social trust and jeopardises access to reliable information. The pandemic has witnessed its fair share, particularly since the global onset of the COVID-19 vaccination. 

Since the announcement of the vaccine’s availability in Jordan, most people’s discussions have hovered around its safety and efficacy. With it has come misinformation and disinformation, which have flooded social media, mobile messaging applications, in-person discussions and a host of other public spheres. It is no secret, that these rumours have hindered vaccination efforts everywhere, and Jordan is not an exception. Yet, we shall not forget that in the maintenance of democracy and the fight against inequalities, freedom of expression and access to information are essential. 

Maisa was one of the participants in a bigger initiative, in which the United Nations supports the national COVID-19 response to engage vulnerable communities on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine. The initiative is in line with the “Verified” campaign of the UN Secretary General to combat misinformation and boost the number of vaccinated people.

Freedom of opinion and expression, which includes the right to access to information, is a human right that should be guaranteed. It is essential to enable people to be part of the solutions, to advocate for their right to education, healthcare, gender equality and justice and to realise sustainable development in which no one is left behind.

The pandemic not only affected public health; it was a pandemic of abuses on fundamental rights and freedoms, with freedom of expression becoming the first casualty. 

Jordan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees this right, and should proactively put government information of public interest in the public domain and make every effort to ensure easy, prompt, effective and practical access to such information. 

The pandemic was a stark reminder that if we want to build forward better, it should begin with regaining public trust by ensuring the public right to information and that its corollaries of freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly are respected and protected.

Anders Pedersen is the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Jordan. Min Jeong Kim is the UNESCO representative to Jordan. They contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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