Chapter

Transparency and the Ethics of Communication

Onora O’neill

in Transparency: The Key to Better Governance?

Published by British Academy

Published in print September 2006 | ISBN: 9780197263839
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734915 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5871/bacad/9780197263839.003.0005

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Transparency and the Ethics of Communication

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Transparency is widely supposed to make institutions and their officeholders both more trustworthy and more trusted. Yet in the United Kingdom many institutions and office-holders on whom transparency requirements have been imposed across the last fifteen years are now seen as less trustworthy, and are apparently less trusted than they were before the requirements were introduced. Does this suggest that transparency does not improve trustworthiness? Or that it increases trustworthiness without increasing trust? Or is the supposed evidence for declining trustworthiness and declining trust misleading? How confident can we be that transparency supports either trustworthiness or trust? Government, corporations, and their critics seemingly converge in seeing transparency as indispensable for accountability and good governance, for preventing corruption and improving performance, and for increasing trustworthiness and trust. But does transparency have these desirable effects? Transparency requirements may fail to improve either trustworthiness or trust because they set a one-sided standard for public, corporate, or other communication. Although transparency demands too little for effective communication, it is an effective antidote to secrecy.

Keywords: United Kingdom; transparency; communication; secrecy; trust; trustworthiness; accountability; good governance

Chapter.  6003 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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