ONE of the most important roles played by the media is to act as a watchdog to reveal how well those vested with responsibility for spending our money and delivering good value services perform.
But increasingly that information is hidden behind a wall of at worst secrecy and at best non-disclosure. The most concerning reason for non-disclosure is because those in authority think it is no-one else’s business to know.
Requests made about how much staff absences cost, what level of compensation is being paid out, or even how much councillors and politicians claim in expenses or are paid are deemed private information.
Even revealing where most crimes are committed, or what offences are committed, remain the preserve of decisions made for us by people holding office.
Fortunately, some of those decisions have been taken out of their hands. For example the Government initiative to publish crime maps which reveal what offences are committed where are now very much in the public domain. And the sheer volume of visits to the relevant website reiterate the fact that there is a strong public call to be given that information.
The introduction of the Freedom of Information Act has also become a powerful tool to help the media and members of the public to unearth information which should readily be placed in the public domain.
It is astonishing, though, the degree of reluctance that exists by some public bodies, to publish that information. It is an act that is not universally welcome because it allows us to see warts and all the effectiveness of their operation. But the FOI only goes so far in forcing councils, police, health organisations and other statutory organisations to reveal their spending and effectiveness.
We still have to ask the relevant questions. Which is why today The Star has launched its Your Right to Know campaign – a campaign aimed at throwing more light on public bodies.
It is in no way a critical campaign – although today’s investigation which reveals a staggering £26m of council tax has failed to be collected by the city council in the past 12 years, points to a huge sense of injustice to those who do pay their tax every year.
The campaign is aimed at revealing those facts and figures and performance statistics that we feel the public has a right to know and should be in the public domain.
It reinforces our role as that watchdog and we hope it will stimulate praise as well as criticism – and make our authorities more accountable.