Knowledge is power… And they know it

Posted on September 16, 2011


This is a facepalm. I have done this a lot during this week...

In a previous blog post I took issue with the revealing of secrets, but I want to clarify that it was the indiscriminate and reckless revealing of secrets that I did not like. Wikileaks has always been a personal grey spot for me, since I want to believe that governments should be held accountable for their actions, and I know that sometimes they do horrible things that they would prefer to keep from the public when the public really should know. But on the other hand, I know that there are some terrible things that have to be done in order to keep a country safe, or to keep a government in power. The question is what should be kept secret, and what should be revealed?

Perhaps I will be stretching the limits of ‘issues in publication’ with this one, but I feel that such a term should encompass anything that is made public, and not simply within written form. In this case, what secrets could and should be revealed, and to whom?

Information is a dangerous and volatile thing, and perhaps it is not as dramatic as situation now, but it is certainly a good example.

Perhaps it is already possible to guess that the topic of my blog is Nick Xenophon’s use of parliamentary privilege to reveal the name of a catholic priest suspected of raping another priest fifty years ago. Whilst not far off, that is more an example of the situation I want to address; Nick Xenophon had information, and he used his power and his privilege to reveal it in a manner of his choosing.

Not a stranger to being the centre of attention, it seems

The reaction to his revealing is, of course, expected. Xenophon is accused of abusing his parliamentary privilege revealing the name to the public. The named priest has resigned from his position post-haste. Xenophon is accused of using the incident as a stunt to increase his popularity.

According to the story, Xenophon had been given the name of a Catholic priest who had sexually abused a boy fifty years past. The lawyers of the Church then ordered him to keep quiet. His response was to tell them to deal with the situation properly, to handle it, to take action. When they refused, he revealed the name, assumingly to force the situation to be handled regardless.

An ultimatum, a power play game between politics and religion, which came in to being through the release of confidential information.

The new Home and Away

It seems to be a theme of the modern age, secrets being used as a strangle hold in the public arena, then disseminated with a speed and efficiency that no one can hope to control; the internet. By simply reporting the incident online, The Australian, The Advertiser, The Sun Herald and numerous other newspapers have ensured that everyone has access to the information at a click of a mouse and a tap of a keyboard. Information to which, until Xenophon spoke out, only a few were privy, and of which fewer still knew the truth.

And the truth itself is questionable at best. That is the problem with revealing secrets. Who knows what is a secret, and what is a lie?

Another secret here is the motive behind the revealing of this information. Did Nick Xenophon abuse his parliamentary privilege by revealing the name? Of course. Did he do it as a political and publicity stunt to endorse his name? Perhaps. Or did he do it because he believed it was the right thing to do? We’d like to hope so. But in truth, considering the secrets out there, sexual abuse 50 years old doesn’t seem like something to be taken before Parliament.

Until you find out that the man accused of this crime was pegged by Julia Gillard to lead the Mental Health reform. And there is more than ample hysteria over abuse of power in this area when it comes to the sexual predation of the disabled and handicapped.

Is it so hard to trust the people in charge of our country?

What about the chaos in England with the Murdoch empire? Does the news have a right to make public secret information they gleaned illegally? Do they have the right to harm innocent people in the effort of getting a story? Isn’t that what Xenophon has potentially done? Getting information in a manner that abuses power and privilege and revealing it in a way that does the same?

What about Wikileaks? Assange got his information through questionable means, and though people might think his source is a noble whistle-blower, the information handed out has gone from being revolutionary to attention-seeking.

You know, this is like the only expression he has...

Did Julian Assange abuse his position of power in using the confidential cables as leverage over the various governments that were at risk of them? Of course. Did he do it because he believed it to be right, or to give himself a sense of power? I used to hope for the former, but now I believe it is the latter.

I understand that knowledge is power, and that only a few people could have the power of that knowledge, and therefore choose who else obtains it. But sometimes secrets are necessary. Am I saying that Xenophon was wrong for revealing the name? No. But shouting it before Parliament, to then be relayed by the newspapers, is perhaps not the best way to do so. What is the best way, though?

Endless questions and too few answers.

In the end, all we can hope for is the best.

In Xenophon’s case, we’re hoping that what he said was truthful, that he did so for noble reasons in the light of the Church wanting to cover it up, and that he did so because he believed the guilty should pay for their crime, regardless of how long ago it was.

The worst thing is that it is true, but Xenophon did so as a publicity stunt, did so to endorse his name to the public, and did so only because he wanted to become more popular.

Parliament is a bit more serious than a school yard. And military secrets are a but more serious than 'Jane kissed Lucas behind the gym!'

Regardless, though, the information Xenophon has revealed is a double-edged sword. Whether or not he wants to be a good, noble man or more popular to the public, he has placed his reputation on the line, and it all hangs on whether or not his secret was true. Whereas Assange may simply shrug if something on Wikileaks was incorrect, Xenophon’s career as a politician is at risk here.

And here we sit in the public sector, watching the event unfold on the stage before us, as I have been all week. Reading the papers and being left with a bitter taste in my mouth, I have nothing to report on the media, nothing to report on publication. I could critique the articles, I could critique the event, but the bottom line is that I am not privy to the truth of this secret, I can only hear what is being told to me. I can only believe what I believe, and want what I want, and in the end, as with all people in a position of lesser power, as with all people that are not privy to the knowledge that the great and powerful are privy to, I can simply place my faith in strangers and hope for the best.

In truth, not being in charge of publication just sucks.

Damn right

Also, in truth, I am very very tired.

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