The Politics of Lying: Implications for Democracy

By Lionel Cliffe; Maureen Ramsay et al. | Go to book overview
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Explanations: The Political Context

Maureen Ramsay

Explanations for political deception are of two types. Those which identify the mechanisms and institutional practices which enable governments to withhold or distort information, and those which explain the causes of secrecy and deception. The first set of explanations reveal how lying is possible within different political contexts. These examine how executive dominated constitutions, doctrines of ministerial responsibility and executive privilege, absence of Freedom of Information legislation, laws prohibiting disclosure, classification systems, national security bureaucracy, elitism in national security policy making and secret intelligence operations, government control of information channels, ineffective mechanisms of accountability, poor safeguards for civil rights and the culture of secrecy and paternalism variously contribute to different governments' power to lie.

Consideration of these issues has frequently led to demands for reform to improve public access to official information, for a Bill of Rights to enhance aspects of citizenship and open government, for safeguards on freedom of speech, for freedom of the media to report on matters of public interest and for restructuring a framework of state power within which public bodies are compelled to promote the public interest.

If these reforms were in place, and some do exist in different countries, governments may indeed find it harder to lie or to withhold information. In theory governments would be more accountable to the public and citizens would be empowered to make a contribution to the political process. But these reforms alone would not address the problem of why governments lie or what causes the need for deception.

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