Information laws have helped speed up the production of stories that would otherwise take a long period of time. 

By Venal Naidu

Access to information laws have become a crucial tool for journalists all over the world because it helps them expose any wrongdoing by public and private entities across the world. But getting the information under those laws can be a slow process.

On Thursday a group of panellists at a workshop at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference at the University of Witwatersrand discussed how they used these laws to get information for their stories and the challenges they faced.

Karabo Ranjuili, a journalist from amaBhungane in South Africa who was on the panel, filed an Access to Information request 13 days after 270 guests from the wedding party of an influential family in South Africa with ties to President Zuma landed at Waterkloof Military base. The base is only supposed to be used for military purposes but the family was able to use it for personal reasons.

Ranjuili said she only received the information over 1500 days later, about 4 and a half years. Ranjuili believes that the fact that it took so long just proved to be another piece of the puzzle with regards to the dirty dealings between President Zuma and the Gupta’s, the influential family who have close business ties with the president.

“There were unnecessary delays with the Department of Defence throughout the process, as there were failures to respond throughout the processes and eventually we had to go to court and that’s when the court ordered that we get those documents,” said Ranjuili.

Ranjuili added that the total litigation cost amaBhungane R254 000. Shayamlal Yadav, a journalist from India who has filed more than 7000 right to information requests, says that there is not a government in India that he hasn’t asked for information.

Yadav explained to the crowd that India’s Right to Information Law has helped him to write many of his award winning stories. In one of his stories, he found that Members of Parliament who were guilty of nepotism. In India members of parliament are each given 30 000 rupees a month to hire personal assistance.

After Yadav received the documents he called each one of the personal assistants and found out that 146 members in upper Indian government had hired their immediate family members. The publication of the story resulted in India’s President Narendra Modi banning members of parliament from hiring relatives as personal assistants. 

The Global Investigative Conference will run until Sunday 19th November.