LETTER: No democracy as council bans public and media

IT was indeed a dark day for democracy (Gazette and Observer, December 17) when Arun District Council barred the media and public from its recent meeting to discuss the remuneration of the chief executive.

I am reminded of John F Kennedy’s address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, in 1961. Kennedy was arguing against the need for press censorship at the time of the cold war. He memorably said:

“The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.

“We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.

“... And no official of my administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.

“... No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary.

“... I not only could not stifle controversy among your readers – I welcome it. This administration intends to be candid about its errors; for as a wise man once said: “An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.””

“We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors; and we expect you to point them out when we miss them.

“... Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed – and no republic can survive.”

Other councils in West Sussex are far more open and transparent than Arun when engaging with the media and public – probably because they have confidence in what they are doing and, like Kennedy, they know that their position is just and will stand up to public scrutiny.

By contrast, Arun shows little interest in genuine engagement with the public – and uses excessive and unwarranted secrecy to avoid public scrutiny when there should be no need.

This illustrates a lack of confidence that their actions will stand up to public scrutiny.

There is no place for secrecy in a democracy – Kennedy said of the USSR:

“Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumour is printed, no secret is revealed.

It conducts the Cold War, in short, with a war-time discipline no democracy would ever hope or wish to match.”

Perhaps Arun should consider acting more like a democracy and less like a totalitarian regime?

Tony Dixon

Barons Close,