Ethical Issues on the Right to Access Information

Article excerpt

Byline: Florangel Rosario Braid

LAST week, UNESCO convened in Vietnam the Asia-Pacific Conference on Ethical Dimensions of Information Society. The forum could not have come at a more appropriate time for us in the Philippines amidst allegations of large-scale corruption attendant to the setting up of the National Broadband Network (NBN). Ramon R. Tuazon, president of the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC) was keynote speaker for the theme "Ethical Issues on the Right to Access Information."

Among the issues discussed in Mr. Tuazon's paper were those related to technology transfer. He quoted the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Declaration of Principles which provides that connectivity is a central enabling agent in building the Information Society and that a universal, ubiquitous, equitable and affordable access to ICT infrastructure and services constitutes one of the challenges of the Information.

A major ethical issue is demand-driven vs supplydriven technology transfer. Some sectors contend that in many cases, technology is being introduced not because it is needed but for reasons that "profit" more the technology supplier. A related issue is how a particular technology being introduced stands in terms of priority needs of a country. A common problem in addressing the above concern, according to Mr. Tuazon, is the inability to illustrate how ICT when used properly and appropriately can be used as a tool to address development issues, such as lack of classrooms, high textbook-student ratio, and incompetent teachers, through such innovative schemes as distance education, online learning and other alternative learning schemes.

A perennial problem in international relations is tied foreign aid. Citing Filipino economists Raul Fabella and Emmanuel De Dios, the paper noted that the past years, there have been initiatives to "untie" aid especially among the least developed countries, and many OECD member countries allow competitive bidding for ODA contracting among: (a) firms from the same donor-country; (b) firms from across different developed countries; and (c) firms from both developed and developing countries.

In the case of the Philippine NBN Project, the Export-Import Bank of the donor country offered a US$329-million loan to finance the NBN on condition that the project is awarded to a corporation partly owned by the donor country.

A related issue is the lack of government transparency in the planning and negotiation of the NBN Project. The lack of transparency in governance undermines citizens' right to access and use public domain information. Quoting Peter Uhlir of UNESCO: "The more information that is openly available from the government and about the government, the less likely will it be that government is able to hide illegal acts, corruption, and misrule. …