Twenty years ago, in the nose4 editorial, we introduced readers to a slogan above the masthead: “News you’re not supposed to know”. It continued: “Who, after all, has the right to ‘suppose’ what you and I – adult and equal citizens – are not fit or entitled to know? Secrecy deprives people of freedom – because it deprives them of their freedom of choice. In a democracy, choice is the power of the people.
“About the only legitimate use of secrecy we can think of, is as a strategy to confuse and gain an advantage over a hostile enemy. Which tells you something about the relationship between government and people we have had in South Africa until now . It also tells you how some corporations continue to view the public, and assume they have the right to deceive and manipulate their shareholders, customers and the public. And our judges, too often, still go along with that line, tragically revealing a great deal about their origins, historically, socially and morally speaking.
“According to our common law, it is a crime to disguise yourself or to assume a false identity. We would have thought the reasons are obvious. It is also easy to see that an abstract trait, such as reputation, is as much part of one’s identity as one’s sex or a large nose. Yet, by means of a claimed right to secrecy, governments and corporations are allowed to parade – and trade on – a false reputation. This month’s example is our exposé of the secret recorded Minutes of the administrators of the Motor Industries Pension Fund. [The trustees regarded their admission – among themselves at a formal trustees’ meeting that was recorded – that they had grievously mismanaged the fund’s affairs and that, had they been the directors of a company, they would have been obliged to report this sad state of affairs to their shareholders – as “private”, and definitely not for publication to their pensioner members. Even more shocking, was that a Gauteng judge agreed with them and issued such an order. Noseweek ignored it.]
“The founding fathers of the United States of America, patriots with faith in themselves and the future of their country, proclaimed in their Declaration of Independence: “ …let facts be submitted to a candid world.”
“Like them, we have faith in the liberating power of knowledge and information. If we know how and why something happened, and who benefited by it, then we will know the right thing to do: to whom to give our vote, our money and our friendship.
“Contrary to the all-too-common cynicism of our time, we reaffirm with our exposés that it does matter whether you do right or wrong. We have to relearn to exercise moral judgement. In that, and in the truth, lie our only hope. – The Editor”
That was the limited reach we had in what my children already call “the olden days”. Now we live in the age of the internet where the reach and the risks are spectacular by comparison. The internet and modern technology enable governments and big corporations to “harvest” an extraordinary amount of what would have been considered private information about each one of us – and use it to their own secretive advantage. But it also allows a student with a PC in, say, Australia to hack deep into the Pentagon’s computer records – and those of the Bank of America. The game plan has changed radically, but the principle contained in our masthead remains: that’s the issue canvassed in our cover story.
When the judge in the Davison divorce case (nose60 in 2004) ruled – unjustly, we believe – that Noseweek’s Vodacom telephone records could be introduced into evidence by Mr Davison, he justified the ruling on the basis of factual inevitability: once you hand your private conversations, your secrets, over to a third party – in the form of a cellphone service provider or the internet – they are no longer secret.
But if the citizen and the law have to resign themselves to that inevitability, so must governments and big business. The power they wield lends that much greater weight to the argument that it is better wielded openly and not in secret.
♦ In this July 2012 issue, we celebrate our 19th anniversary! Nose1 appeared in July 1993, with a full-frontal nude of then-Cosmopolitan editor Jane Raphaely on the cover. A cheeky mock-up of course. And this month, Noseweek has occasion to congratulate her on the publication of her splendid autobiography (see Jane tells the truth in this issue), in which she recalls the event `and her reaction to it.
At a recent Press Club lunch, she was heard to declare: “I understand entirely how President Zuma feels!” – The Editor
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