Attacking Transparency

By Megan Daley (Posted: October 10, 2013)

Though it is widely accepted that more transparency in our governments equates to more openness and fairness, some have begun to view Freedom of Information laws more as a tool for negative media coverage rather than increased transparency. Many who once advocated for laws that increase citizens’ access to information have realized that transparency not only opens the doors to information for citizens, but to criticism by the media. Indeed, some developing countries recently passing Freedom of Information laws find themselves being criticized for past mistakes now open to the media while little is mentioned of their more corrupt (and less transparent) neighboring governments. This consequence of transparency has been noted in the developed world as well. For instance, Tony Blair viewed his passing of the UK’s Freedom of Information Act as “imbecility”, stressing the use of Freedom of Information laws by the media rather than by the average citizen. Similarly, with the passage of FOIA, the ugliness of American politics has become even more transparent, resulting in the American public’s increased disdain for Congress, Congressmen’s fear of making unpopular deals under a spotlight, and the stagnation of progress in the American political system. Thus, many American lawmakers advocate a return to the old, less transparent way of politics, “For a couple hundred years, we developed a process in this country.… It was not a smooth process; it was messy, it was partisan. But it fundamentally worked”.

But do we really think a return to less transparent, closed information governments is the right path? Though opening governments to harsher criticisms from the watchful eye of the media, Freedom of Information Laws have also created a more educated and informed public. More so than ever before, citizens possess the information to make truly informed decisions that bequeath them the ability to change their governments accordingly. Lawmakers may dislike the watchfulness and increased scrutiny that accompanies Freedom of Information laws, but this problem is more reflective of the jaded perception the media has of lawmakers, a problem that far precedes the passing of access to information laws. Unintentionally, through their criticism of transparency and openness, leaders and other politicians are only strengthening the support of corrupt, tyrannical governments – governments that result from a lack of transparency and that, when given the choice, no citizen or lawmaker of a transparent government would prefer.