`Speak Truth Unto Power`

Public Interest



Charles Garrett, British Ambassador to Macedonia

charles garrett

The UK Civil Service doesn't have an official motto – but if it did, it would almost certainly be: "speak truth unto power". It's a maxim that's in the blood of good civil servants, even if they know that it won't make their lives any easier. The best politicians learn to cherish civil service advice which points out the flaws in their arguments. The worst surround themselves with sycophants who create a micro-climate which wraps a warm embrace around their worst tendencies.

This idea of "speaking truth unto power" was central to the creation of the Magna Carta 800 years ago. It was then that large land-owners in England had the courage to challenge the taxes that the King was imposing. We often speak about the legacy it brought; the democratic development it led to; and the global influence it continues to have to this day.

I don't know how much those land-owners thought about the public good vs self-interest, but the Magna Carta began a revolution in the way the state functioned. You can draw a direct line between the signing of Magna Carta and the open and frank debates we have today about issues – particularly those focussed around matters of public interest.

Citizens need to know what is being done by the representatives they've chosen to govern on their behalf. And the UK Government provides the public with many thousands of ways to find out. For example the legislation.gov.uk website offers information on the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998; which is directly related to freedom of information. And there are many ongoing research projects focusing on the public interest in the UK in various areas.

In Macedonia as in many countries the public are given a daily diet of political debate upon which to chew. But there is sometimes an absence of fact with which to wash it down. Debate has to have more ingredients, more hard facts, to help it rise above mere claim and counter-claim, above the "Yes we did. Oh no you didn't" exchanges that rarely achieve anything. Real debate requires open, frank discussion about what has been done and what needs to be done. And it needs facts and dispassionate argument in order for the people themselves to work out what is being done in their interests – the public interest.

Recognizing and identifying the public interest and the value that societies gain from it is why the UK is proud to support this project. We welcome the focus on voicing the public interest in Macedonia with the Institute of Communication Studies in Macedonia.

We want to help produce a comprehensive and comparative analysis of the notion of public interest in Macedonia and the EU. To identify how the public interest is regulated in the national and European legislative. And to understand the ways in which the public interest is perceived by the citizens of Macedonia.

Achieving this will provide a solid platform for the development of editorial guidelines and should lead to the creation of a digital citizenship initiative "Res Publica". That initiative will empower journalists, experts and anyone who wants to participate in the public debate about issues of public interest. That will strengthen public debate, and ultimately contribute to better policy.

We hope that this project will help everyone speak truth unto power – and give power to the truth they speak.

I wish the Institute for Communication Studies every success with this project.


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