FOI soundbites: Focus on the key benefit of transparency

This morning I talked a little on CNN‘s American Morning show about proposed legislation in some states to make 911 tapes secret (clip). A victim rights person also was on the segment, arguing for the provisions to protect victim privacy. The segment was inspired by a recent Associated Press story on the issue.

I made the point that having tapes public can do some good (e.g., public awareness brought to the Toyota accelerator problem because of a 911 tape of a crash), and that journalists should and generally do follow the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics to weigh the public good against the harm in broadcasting tapes. But afterward I kicked myself because I didn’t make the most important point: Making the tapes secret will actually hurt victims, not protect them.

We make those records public in all but a few states so that our government will operate better, and to identify problems that need fixing. Because 911 operators know that calls can be aired in their community they treat victims with respect and do a better job. It’s human nature. If government can operate in secret then it can do bad things and get away with it.

When covering public records issues I think it’s important for us to focus on that basic fundamental reason for transparency. We get bogged down in legislative details and sometimes forget the big picture. I know next time I will write down that bullet point and make sure to get it in my soundbite. Transparency makes government better.

One Response

  1. esprit de l’escalier strikes again!

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