Statement by Norman Baker, former British Home Office Minister, in support of the Radical Party’s initiative for a project resolution on the Right to Know tabled at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Democracy is nothing without citizens who are educated and informed. And to be informed, citizens must have the Right To Know. Democracy cannot simply be the marking of a number or cross on a ballot paper every few years if the voter is unable to assess what they are voting for. Without that knowledge they may as well cover their eyes and stick a pin randomly into the ballot paper.
There are many who would deny the citizen the honest and true information to which they are entitled in a democracy.
There are governments who pump out lies that suit their purposes. Like the brutal regime in China that tells its citizens nothing about its concentration camps in Xinjiang, nothing about its illegal annexation of independent Tibet, nothing about its suppression of freedom in Hong Kong.
There are privately owned media outlets whose airtime and newspapers are filled, not with neutral reports from responsible journalists, but with a diet of skewed stories that suit the political or personal ambitions of their owners.
There are the business interests that keep their heads down or worse, tell you how caring they are, as they force local people off their land, engage in mass deforestation, or poison rivers and lakes.
We cannot rely on every human being to do the right thing by others, by society or by the environment. We need to be able to find out what they are doing so we can mobilise to change their behaviour.
And the great thing is that if citizens are educated and informed, if there is plurality in media ownership, if businesses are required to report openly and honestly their activities, and penalised if they don’t – if the Right To Know exists and is exercised – then the vast bulk of abuses, of lies, of environmental damage will stop, will not even occur in the first place.
The Right To Know is a great disinfectant, and a great preservative of all that is good in society.
The Right To Know ultimately is the defence that stops civilisation descending into fascism and barbarism.
Rt Hon Norman Baker
Former Home Office Minister (Liberal Democrat) UK Government