Scandals and freedom of information

Authored by: David Cuillier

The routledge companion to media and scandal

Print publication date:  April  2019
Online publication date:  March  2019

Print ISBN: 9780815387596
eBook ISBN: 9781351173001
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781351173001-22

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Abstract

Problems exposed are problems solved. Freedom of information laws throughout the world serve a critical role in helping journalists, nongovernmental organizations, and citizens expose government corruption and hold powerful institutions accountable. Every day, official records bring to light through sunshine laws scandals of significant importance for society:

Heather Brooke, a journalism professor at City, University of London, acquired records through England’s Freedom of Information law to help expose the Members of Parliament expense scandal in 2009, revealing widespread abuse of public funds, including purchases of a duck house, adult films, jellied eels, and moat cleaning (MPs’ Expenses 2009; Kelso 2009).

Documents obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act showed that the United States government deliberately skewed information to suggest falsely that North Vietnamese ships had attacked U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, justifying escalation of the Vietnam War (Shane 2005).

ProPublica used public record laws to reveal that at least 165 nursing home residents from 2011 to 2014 were hospitalized or died in the United States because of the improper use of a popular blood thinner (Ornstein 2015).

Journalists wielded public record laws in 2014 to unravel the details of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email and home server to conduct public business as secretary of state, which later became a campaign albatross in her presidential election bid against Donald Trump, perhaps even costing her the presidency (Gillum and Bridis 2015; Leopold 2015).

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