Democracy demands openness

As members of the media, we have a particular interest in the transparency and accessibility of our government, but so should the entire population. But in times of crisis, whether real or imagined, there is a tendency of a government to limit openness and honesty about its actions, and there is a parallel tendency of that government’s people to accept increased secrecy and evasion. National security becomes, in these times, a trump card for which otherwise unjustifiable secrecy suddenly becomes necessary. Many great minds have provided us warning of this type of thinking, but Edvard Teller may have put it best, “The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy; the best weapon of a democracy is openness.” If anything, it is in a time of crisis that democracy demands the most transparency. It is the very fact that we must cede greater powers to our rulers during these periods that we must be empowered with the tools of the press in order to identify and restrict abuse. But it is the natural interest of the powerful to resist anything that could weaken them. Today we see this in manifest in the secrecy surrounding Guantanamo Bay, an unwillingness to pursue court cases which could reveal too many national secrets and a more general contempt held for our nation’s press. And whether or not you think that our fears of terrorism or other threats are justified, you must never accept the idea that our government can fairly excuse itself from explanation because democracy is, by definition, a collective action. The power of a democracy, fundamentally is vested in its population. So we cannot simply trust the words of our leaders who will always claim to be right, good and virtuous. It is the job of the population to determine these things. This is not to say that our government must always be something to be feared, but that, whether its actions are good or not, without the interest and participation of a population armed with complete and accurate knowledge of its workings a nation cannot be fairly called a democracy. We of The Cynic call for greater openness in government.