College of Liberal Arts & SciencesUniversity of Florida

Right to Know Conference

Abstracts & Podcasts

April 5, 2013 from 8:30am-5:15pm in 219 Dauer Hall and the University Auditorium, Friends of Music Room.

"Political Trade-offs Between Post-Authoritarian Privacy
  and Transparency"

Jason Wittenberg (Associate Professor, UC Berkeley, Political Science)

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What are the political trade-offs involved in opting for privacy over transparency and vice versa. What do we gain and lose?

"De-Democratization or Governance by Triage?
  Diagnosing Romanian Democracy Through Trust"

Paul E. Sum (Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science & Public Administration, University of North Dakota)

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Many political observers express concern that Romania has reversed its course toward consolidated democracy. The 2012 constitutional crisis, stemming from an attempt to impeach the President, was an indicator suggesting that the Romanian political system is in crisis. I discuss the basic parameters of the summer crisis in the broader context of the ongoing economic crisis. I then assess the political system through the lens of trend lines of citizen trust in political and social institutions as well as in each other (1996-2012). I argue that Romanian democracy has had many shortcomings and, although the crisis was real, does not significantly depart from patterns we have seen throughout the post-communist period.

"Government Social Media Use in the United States: Constitutional Constraints"

Lyrissa Lidsky (University of Florida Law School)

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My presentation will address how government social media use can enhance "transparency" in ways that benefit U.S. citizens. More specifically, I will demonstrate that existing First Amendment doctrines thwart optimal government social media use, in part because these doctrines rely on an outmoded, linear model of government-citizen communication. My ultimate aim is to suggest ways in which U.S. courts might recalibrate existing doctrines to foster what scholar Mark Yudof has called "a continuous process of consultation" between citizens and their governments.

"Illiberal Democrats: The AKP and Freedom of Expression in Turkey"

Howard Eissenstat (Assistant Professor of History, St. Lawrence University)

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The breadth and rapidity of change under Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been, by any standard, remarkable. The power of the military has been broken, new social classes have risen to the fore in a surging economy, and topics that were once universally acknowledged as "taboo" are now openly discussed. Internationally, Turkey enjoys unprecedented prestige; "the Turkish model" is routinely invoked as a positive one for the wider Middle East.

All this said, the AKP years have, in many ways, been marked by sharp limitations on freedom of expression. More journalists are imprisoned in Turkey than in any other country and tens of thousands of others have been imprisoned under anti-terror statutes. The Turkish press is increasingly marked by self-censorship, while universities have come under progressively greater state control.

This paper will examine the roots of this mixed record as well as the prospects for further reforms as the AKP moves into its second decade in power.

"Journalism & the Pursuit of Truth in East Central Europe Since 1989"

Owen Johnson (Associate Professor, School of Journalism, Indiana University)

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The credo of objective journalism argues that reporters should seek the truth in their obligations to serve the people. Normally this is understood primarily in the context of uncovering government malfeasance. In East Central Europe, however, journalists serve not only the people, but also individuals, political parties, the government itself, and commercial enterprises. They do this against a historical backdrop of government intervention in the lives of individuals, especially journalists. This presentation attempts to develop a framework for comparing the professional, political and legal realities of journalists' work in this area.

"The Right to Know the Past in Hungary"

Gábor Halmai, Visiting Professor, Princeton

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My major argument would be that the failure to properly solve the problem of both lustration and access to the files of the secret police files in Hungary among many other things contributed to the failure of liberal democracy.

"Politics and Transparency:
  The Role of Truth Processes in Poland, Serbia and Croatia"

Brian Grodsky (Associate Professor, Comparative Politics, University of Maryland, Baltimore County)

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Proponents of truth commissions routinely champion these mechanisms as capable of fulfilling a range of transitional justice goals, from lessening social tensions to enhancing the legitimacy of new political elites. The assumption is that these truth processes are based on new, democratic norms of transparency. Yet truth commissions, so loosely defined in the justice literature, can take on a variety of shapes as well as goals. In this paper, I argue that at the crossroads between politics and transitional justice truth commissions are prone to take on characteristics (ranging from membership to mandate) that make them more likely to strategically mold than objectively discover the truth of what happened under the former regime. In the process, the transparency of the new regime is potentially undermined rather than strengthened. I explore this argument using elite interviews and media analyses conducted in three cases from Central and Southeast Europe: Poland, Serbia, and Croatia

"The Transparency Fix: The Right to Know in Historical Context"

Mark Fenster, University of Florida Law School

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A visible government is a key attribute of democracy, and transparency is almost always better than secrecy. But we need to better understand why the contemporary, sprawling state often disappoints those committed to a truly popular, fully accountable, participatory democracy. In this talk, based on a forthcoming paper called "The Transparency Fix: The Right to Know in Historical Context," I will provide an historical account of transparency advocacy in the mid-twentieth century by looking closely at the emergence of a "right to know" and "freedom of information" in the post-war period in the U.S.

"US Citizens Need Not Apply"

Alice Freifeld, Director, Center for European Studies and Associate Professor, UF Department of History

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Hungarian law insists on reserving scholarly access to researchers from countries with similar or the same policies of privacy. U.S. protection of free speech is clearly wider and at odds with the privacy expectations in Europe, especially in the former Communist countries of the EU. Memories of an intrusive government and the network of internal spies reinforce a strict preference for privacy legislation over information access. What are the consequences for scholarly cooperation?

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