Right 2 Know: Hijacking a Conference Near You

Dec 05, 11 Right 2 Know: Hijacking a Conference Near You

Posted by in Featured, News & Media, Politics

Since there’s been a Protection of Information Bill there’s been a Right 2 Know Campaign. They have steadfastly refused to accept the POI bill in any way, shape or form whatsoever, which is probably good. The Bill needs to be redone from the ground up, and no matter how many concessions are hypothetically made (though unlikely now that it is actually legislation), the bill has been tainted and poisoned, and should be scrapped if only for the purposes of washing everyones’ hands clean of it. So kudos to R2K for fighting the good fight. As I noted a while back, their noises of ‘resistance’ are admirable, but ultimately pointless, since this is something that will be decided by our Constitutional Court and not a civil society. But that was so last-month. Now that it’s been passed, local media outlets have focused their short attention spans to Jackie Selebi’s shenanigans and climate change in the form of COP17. But what’s this! We see R2K tramping about outside the ICC in Durban talking about the POI Bill again!? I thought that organisation had nothing to do with climate change? Well, according to R2K the government is keeping what the lobbyist organisation call “climate secrets”, in the sense that they do not disclose otherwise-confidential financial agreements between private companies and Eskom. This somehow negatively impacts on our well-being as citizens (the R2K doesn’t really provide an explanation of just why we should know how much of a discount mining companies are getting, just that we should know.) Despite the fact that we already are aware of the price-alterations between big power-using companies in South Africa and Eskom, it’s frankly beside the point of COP17. COP17 is at its core a summit of world leaders and policymakers to figure out how to improve our national and regional approaches to combating climate change. With the Kyoto Protocol fast reaching expiry this has become even more important. But the R2K has effectively siphoned off a large chunk of publicity covering this important...

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Transparency isn’t achieved like this, Assange

Let us assume, as many do, that freedom of information is good for its own sake. We have a right to know about information related to public governance. Pragmatically, we could argue that transparency in government reduces corruption, ensures fair and just distribution of government budget and makes public figures accountable for dubious and illegal action. That said, I would be grateful if anybody could point me towards an academic article providing empirical evidence of some causal relationship between these factors. Wikileaks does not provide transparency, it forces it. Like many challenges, the means of achieving a goal are as important as the end result. In this case, it is true that Wikileaks has succeeded in providing a pseudo-transparency: if the government is unwilling to release information then we shall take it. Transparency provides the means for a two way dialogue between citizens and their government. Wikileaks has merely achieved a conversation between the media and its audience, bypassing a now-resentful government and shutting down useful lines of dialogue. Many of the documents contain information which should make us consider the legitimacy of actions of the Pentagon, diplomats and even soldiers. Many of the documents contain information that could cause direct physical harm to people crucial to a number of peacekeeping and journalistic endeavours worldwide. But the contents of the documents are only of specific interest. What is crucial to realise is that Wikileaks has not achieved a real transparency. A real public transparency occurs when a government willingly divulges its own information. Government complicity in information release is important because it shows their commitment to the process, including holding diplomats and army officials accountable for misbehaviour and willingness to prosecute individuals found guilty of corruption. At an idealistic level, it illustrates that a government places high value in public freedoms and accountability. Transparency provides the means for a two way dialogue between citizens and their government. Wikileaks has merely achieved a conversation between the media and its audience, bypassing a now-resentful government and...

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When the private goes public: the media and information

Write. Right. The difference in spelling is arbitrary, for the words, to many, mean the same thing. The Gods of Democracy and All Things Rational have bestowed upon us the inalienable right to information about everything deemed public and secrecy about everything deemed private. Yet when Wikileaks recently published top secret Pentagon information about the Afghan war for the general perusal of the Internet vultures, we lauded the act as a victory for journalism and freedom of information. Care was taken to include no information about American personnel and 15000 documents were not released to ensure that information inside would not put lives in Afghanistan at risk, but this courtesy was not entirely extended to informants from the Afghan side of things. And instead of the government deciding for us what information we did or did not have access to, this task was magnanimously carried out by the wigs behind Wikileaks. They appear to believe that now that the stolen information is in their hands, they have complete right to do with it what they please. The Pentagon was not particularly happy. Not surprising, they believed that publishing secret information would undermine their war effort. But nor were a whole handful of journalists. Journalists, whose motivations lie in pockets more often than principles, are not necessarily the best placed to determine what should and what should not remain secret. Reporters Without Borders wrote an open letter to Wikileaks explaining their reservations about the publication. They were concerned firstly for the individuals who were named, and the lives put at risk. They were concerned secondly that this sort of irresponsible posting would result in more regulation of Internet content. There is certainly great use in leaking private information, they admit, especially in the cases where some misconduct or irregularity has occurred. This does not mitigate problems with blanket posting huge swaths of government information. Transparency. Accountability. Integrity. Words brandished with little evidence of effectiveness as a standard response to threats against press freedom. More subtlety...

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