Rwanda's Media High Council is currently drafting a new bill that will oblige public officials to release information to journalists, writes Edmund Kagire in The New Times.

The Access to Information Bill which will also give a time limit, within which officials should release information, is expected to be in parliament at least by the end of August.

According to Patrice Mulama, the MHC Executive Secretary, the new bill, if passed, will allow media practitioners in the country a no-holds-barred access to information and will also compel institutions, government officials and individuals with information of public interest to pass it on without any hesitation or risk legal sanctions.

"Of course there are situations when information is considered classified and exceptional especially when it concerns national security, but where it doesn't, it will be a responsibility of anybody to allow access to information to the media," Mulama told The New Times yesterday.

"This bill also proposes an institution to enforce the law to ensure that it contents are abided by." Mulama further explained that the legislation will set the procedures for receiving the particular information as requested by a journalist and the period within which to get feedback.

In what will be a landmark breakthrough for the Rwandan media, all custodians of information who will be found to have 'sat' on public information will 'feel the pinch' according to Mulama, because the act will be considered an offence and punishable by law.

Media Practitioners have for long been complaining about the culture of holding onto information, bureaucracy and a reluctant and cautious way information is released especially by government institutions.

"This bill will make our work easier. Some people think information can be sat on but this is not the case. They should know it's an obligation. This is really a positive move" said Shyaka Kanuma, the Editor in Chief of Rwanda Focus, an English weekly.

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