Trust and transparency: do we really need to see everything?

Tuesday 5 November, 7.30pm until 9.00pm, Vlaams-Nederlands Huis deBuren, Leopoldstraat 6, 1000 Brussels, Belgium International Satellite Events 2013

Not many areas of public life are immune from demands for more transparency today. Governments pride themselves on their openness and accessibility. The media put intense pressure – even running sting operations – on politicians to make sure that private interests are declared. Senior figures in public life are expected to reveal their salaries. So virtuous is being transparent considered today, that the most high-profile anti-corruption organisation in the world is called… Transparency International. Whistleblowers – once considered disloyal - are the new moral heroes. Lobbyists the new zeroes. It seems that the mantra – if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide – has become universally accepted.

But is this an unqualified Good Thing? After all, as private individuals we still expect a degree of confidentiality although there are arguments – for example in the case of medical records – for us to be less precious about it. Might it not be the case that demanding transparency could have the perverse outcome of breeding secrecy and an increase in secretive off the record corridor discussions? Can government actually work without the freedom to discuss alternatives behind closed doors? Are we overly obsessed with the process by which decisions are reached rather than the actual outcomes? Why are we so uncomfortable with idea that we can leave people to get on with things without auditing them every step of the way? Has society run out of trust? Do we really think that people will do wrong if they aren’t watched? Is it right to assume that those who trumpet their transparency are necessarily squeaky clean? Would you share ALL your secrets?

Dr Albena Azmanova
social philosopher, political commentator and activist; author, The Scandal of Reason: a critical theory of political judgement

Dr Thierry Baudet
teacher, Leiden Law School; former columnist, NRC Handelsblad; author, The Significance of Borders: why representative government and the rule of law require nation states

Manu Claeys
chairman, stRaten-generaal

Kirk Leech
interim director, European Animal Research Campaign Centre; government affairs, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

Dr Erna Scholtes
public sector consultant at Twynstra Gudde; author, Transparency, symbol of a drifting government and Nieuwsmedia als transparanteurs (forthcoming)

Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive

Produced by
Claire Fox director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
Angus Kennedy convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination
Xander Stroo programme officer, Vlaams-Nederlands Huis deBuren
Session partners