Posted from the U.S
Reprinted from the original posting on www.forumblog.org on February 10, 2005)
The World Economic Forum has been a model of free speech in terms of its weblog since the Easongate controversy began. However, not releasing the videotape has become a story and a twisted problem all of its own. Citing a combination of off-the record policies and Chatham House Rules, it looks like Easongate is entering an Orwellian world of doublespeak.
Here is what I found regarding the origins and meanings of the Chatham House Rules (from riia.org, The Royal Institute of International Affairs).
Founded in 1920, Chatham House, formerly known as The Royal Institute of International Affairs, is based in the heart of London. As a measure of its importance in the world of international relations, the name 'Chatham House' - the building - is now commonly used to refer to the organization.
The Chatham House Rule reads as follows:
"WHEN A MEETING, OR PART THEREOF, IS HELD UNDER THE CHATHAM HOUSE RULE, PARTICIPANTS ARE FREE TO USE THE INFORMATION RECEIVED, BUT NEITHER THE IDENTITY NOR THE AFFILIATION OF THE SPEAKER(S), NOR THAT OF ANY OTHER PARTICIPANT, MAY BE REVEALED".
Members should note that general meetings are almost invariably held ‘on the record’ rather than under the Rule and this is unlikely to change with the new amendment. In those cases where the Rule is not considered sufficiently strict, meetings can be held ‘off the record’ and participants are not free to make public use of the information received.
EXPLANATION of the Rule
The Chatham House Rule originated at Chatham House with the aim of guaranteeing anonymity to those speaking within its walls in order that better international relations could be achieved. It is now used throughout the world as an aid to free discussion.
Meetings of Chatham House may be held 'on the record' or under the Chatham House Rule. In the latter case, it may be agreed with the speaker(s) that it would be conductive to free discussion that a given meeting, or part thereof, should be strictly private and thus held under the Chatham House Rule.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
Q. When was the Rule devised?
A. In 1927, then refined in 1992.
Q. Should one refer to the Chatham House Rule or the Chatham House Rules?
A. There is only one Rule.
Q. What are the benefits of using the Rule?
A. It allows people to speak as individuals, and to express views that may not be those of their organizations, and therefore it encourages free discussion. People usually feel more relaxed if they don't have to worry about their reputation or the implications if they are publicly quoted.
Q. How is the Rule enforced?
A. Chatham House can take disciplinary action against one of its members who breaks the Rule. Not all organisations that use the Rule have sanctions. The Rule then depends for its success on being seen as morally binding.
Q. Is the Rule used for all meetings at Chatham House?
A. Not often for the larger meetings (so called General Meetings); more frequently for smaller ones, for example where work in progress is discussed or when subject matter is politically sensitive.
Q. Who uses the Rule these days?
A. It is widely used in the English-speaking world - by local government and commercial organisations as well as research organisations.
The concept of the rule is easy to understand, but does it apply here? The World Economic Forum says it does, and to a degree one has to respect the World Economic Forum's sticking to its rules (although there are some critics already challenging when and how this rule is being invoked in this case, and if it even applied to the room where the discussion was had, and why was it all videotaped).
But there is a person and an organization who can make an ethical stand here: Eason Jordan and CNN. Let me describe what they could say, if the noble concepts of transparency and accountability mattered to them (because the rest of the world reads this invocation of the Chatham House Rules as the "old boy" network protecting its own):
(Note: The following is a satirical letter which I do hope that Eason & CNN would send to the WEF):
Dear Powers That Be At The World Economic Forum:
Thank you so very much for trying to save my hide with the most valuable Chatham House Rules policy. I really, truly appreciate it. However, last night the ghost of George Orwell visited me, and after a long and frightening discussion about Big Brother, media manipulation, and other things I can not even dare mention, I have decided to change my mind. I have nothing to hide. I fully believe in, and accept the concept of transparency at face value. More importantly, I would like to show Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the foreign minister of Afghanistan, an important and fragile new democracy in the Middle East, how we do it in the democractic and free Western World. I would like for him to understand that in the United States we do things differently, and that invoking obscure policies to protect oneself from accountability from what one said is not anything that I, or my network, stand for or believe in. In fact, I would agree to play the videotape, in its entirety, on CNN for all the world to see. It is time for me to standup and be a real leader, and to show the rest of my news friends how a media figure should act. If, when the tape comes out, it does not look so good for me, I will be accountable for what I said, perhaps instituting widespread reform across CNN to become a model of what mainstream media should be. Perhaps I will lose my job - but I do not care. I want to address this issue head-on, with courage and a stout heart, and not hide from it. I appreciate that you stand by your rules, but I believe that in this case, if none of the other panel members object: please, for the good of democracy and transparency, release the tape!
Is that really ever going to happen? In my view, Eason Jordan and CNN have a major opportunity here to redeem themselves and lead a true reform in the quality and verifiability of the news. We all know that they have the power to obtain the release of the complete, unedited videotape, if they wanted to. You can stop the Kabuki dance. Please do so. It would be a real start in a needed change across the board for mainstream media. It would be good for your soul. The truth here would set you free. It would be unexpected, wonderful, even transcendant. It would be a unique show of leadership if Eason himself led the charge for the tape's release. Would it be the business thing to do? Maybe not. But it would be the correct human thing to do, and even your enemies, naysayers, and detractors would have to have some respect for that level of courage to face your own words. Why are you afraid to face the reality of your own words, you who shoot words at others for so long?