In an age of WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden, it may seem odd to argue that we have expectations of openness in democracies greater than ever before, but we do. Not only expectations but institutional mechanisms in government, legislated guarantees, guardians of openness in civil society, practices of disclosure in health care, advertising, food packaging and labelling, and elsewhere. In the U.S. case, the focal point of this lecture, little of this goes back to the early days of the Republic, but almost all of it precedes the Internet. The U.S. Freedom of Information Act (1966) grew out of 1950s struggles inside government related to the Cold War and other advances in openness owe much to the rise of a new generation of political leadership coming to maturity in the early 1960s some years before mass demonstrations and the cultural revolution of the late 1960s. A political culture and a social fabric far more committed to openness than ever before emerged in the decade of disclosure, 1965-75, and reshaped expectations of what the public has a right to know. This history should reshape how we think about transparency today.
Michael Schudson (@mschudson2) is Professor of Journalism and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at Columbia University.
Michael's new book is The Rise of the Right to Know: Politics and the Culture of Transparency, 1945–1975.
Nick Couldry (@couldrynick) is Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory and Head of the Department of Media and Communications at LSE.
The Department of Media and Communications (@MediaLSE) undertakes outstanding and innovative research and provides excellent research-based graduate programmes for the study of media and communications. The Department was established in 2003 and in 2014 our research was ranked number 1 in the most recent UK research evaluation, with 91% of research outputs ranked world-leading or internationally excellent.
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