To what extent is transparency in governance necessary?

The Internet has mobilised individuals by granting them access to unprecedented amounts of information, and, as once famously stated by Sir Francis Bacon, “knowledge is power.”  The Internet has also played an important, democratizing role in challenging governance, particularly dictatorial regimes, by giving individuals a voice and a platform to bring together people of similar ideas.  Governments and large institutions are finding it increasingly difficult to achieve total control because of increased access to new media technologies and widespread use of the Internet, and have been subjected to calls for complete transparency in their operations.  This leads me to question to what extent transparency is necessary, and whether total transparency is beneficial for society?

Central to the recent debate in regards to government transparency is the controversial WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange in 2006.  WikiLeaks claims to serve the function of the fourth estate by publishing information leaked by anonymous sources in its original form, to reveal censored injustices and hold governments accountable for their own actions.  Although WikiLeaks has devised a “secure” and anonymous drop box for the contribution of information, in the past, the safety of sources has been severely compromised.  Attorney-General Robert McClelland has gone so far as to say that the information published has “threatened Australia’s national security,” (Rourke, 2011).  Although this degree of transparency helps individuals to form their own opinions in regards to the government’s actions (Lessig, 2010), the public’s right to know must be questioned as it is weighed up against the safety of individuals.

The other consideration that must made in regards to total transparency is whether or not the media has a right to pry into the private lives of government officials, and whether or not the public has a right to know this information.  In the past, Australians have seen the indiscretions of government officials plastered on the front pages of our newspapers, for example government officials involved in sex scandals.  This raises the question of how media organisations define “public interest,” as it is my belief that one’s private and professional life are separate, and poor judgment in one’s private life does not necessarily mean poor professional judgments.  The consequences caused by naming and shaming these individuals is incredibly negative in terms of family life and public image.  Often, a halo effect takes place and the negative public image formed on the basis of private indiscretions, extends to their professional lives.  A critical examination of the ideas raised in this week’s readings has shaped my belief that whilst greater transparency in governance may be beneficial, complete transparency is unnecessary.

Bibliography:

Lessig, L., 2009, ‘Against Transparency’, New Republic, 9 October, accessed 26 April 2013, <http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/against-transparency?page=0,0>

Mason, P., 2011, ‘Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere’, Idle Scrawl, BBC, 5 February, accessed 26 April 2013, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2011/02/twenty_reasons_why_its_kicking.html>

Rourke, A., 2011, ‘WikiLeaks cable leak “irresponsible”, says Australia’, The Guardian, 31 August, accessed 26 April 2013, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/aug/31/wikileaks-cable-leak-australia>

Styles, C., 2009, ‘A Government 2.0 idea – first, make all the functions visible’, Making manifest, 28 June, accessed 26 April 2013, <http://catherinestyles.com/2009/06/28/a-government-2-0-idea/>

Usher, N., 2011, ‘How Egypt’s uprising is helping redefine the idea of a “media event”’, Nieman Journalism Lab, 8 February, accessed 26 April 2013, <http://www.niemanlab.org/2011/02/how-egypts-uprising-is-helping-redefine-the-idea-of-a-media-event/>

WikiLeaks, 2013, ‘About’, WikiLeaks, accessed 26 April 2013, <http://wikileaks.org/About.html>

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