An Oklahoma Supreme Court proposal that would remove some personal identifiers from court documents would be a blow to openness and transparency, but opposition to the idea from the state’s largest newspaper seems hypocritical given its own secretive and slanted style of journalism.
The court has asked for comments about the proposal, which is in advance of a new electronic document system. (I’ll consider this my comment.) If approved, identifying information, such as addresses, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and similar data would be removed from court documents. Here’s the entire proposal. Here is a thorough article about it in the Tulsa World.
The proposal is an example of the prevailing tension between privacy versus transparency in the Internet Age, a topic also intertwined with personal web identity. There are arguments to be made on both sides of the issue. Individuals should have privacy rights; the public has the right to know about taxpayer-funded government. There are no easy solutions, but they shouldn’t come at the expense of government transparency. The court should absolutely not adopt the proposal, which could lead to even more information restrictions.
The Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper, recently argued on its editorial page that people “concerned about openness in government should let the justices know the latest proposal is a dud.” Of course, this plea came in an unsigned editorial labeled generically “The Oklahoman Editorial” on NewsOK.com. Who wrote the editorial? It’s a double standard. How can media outlets here make a case for transparency if they’re not transparent?
Another recent unsigned editorial labeled “The Oklahoman Editorial” on NewsOK.com referred to Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello’s new group to “promote changes in labor laws.” The short editorial, which really only serves as a mouthpiece for Costello’s right-wing ideas, fails to mention that when he announced the formation of his organization the commissioner called public employees feral hogs, which generated quite of bit of controversy. Here’s how Costello was quoted in the Tulsa World: “I don’t know if you know much about feral hogs, but they reproduce three or four times a year, they eat anything and everything, and I kind of think there is some comparison between bureaucrats and feral hogs.”
So a media company that routinely publishes unsigned, right-wing editorials with blatant omissions-some might call it lying-is calling for a type of information openness it would never practice itself.
FOI Oklahoma Inc., a group that promotes freedom of information, opposes the proposal as well. The organization’s web site shows its current president, Bryan Dean, is a reporter for The Oklahoman. Is Dean willing to ask for more transparency at his newspaper, which will soon be sold? I’m not criticizing Dean as a professional journalist, and, as far as I know, he might be the nicest guy in the world, but any person who cares about fairness and openness in journalism should at least call The Oklahoman a dud, too.
The issue does transcend The Oklahoman and even FOI Oklahoma Inc., however, because it applies to all of us. We need more openness in government, not less. Any government policy that restricts basic information-we’re not talking CIA intelligence reports here-is a bad policy. The public has the right to know. It’s fundamental to democracy.