Prince Harry, the British press and the age of transparency

March 8, 2008

(Note: I started this about a week ago, but as I am on business travel am having a hard time keeping up with blogging–so I apologize for this seeming an old subject now–such is instant news)

I am astounded and amazed at this story about Prince Harry in Afghanistan. First, that the British press with their tradition of incredibly outrageous and irresponsible tabloid journalism would all agree–and stick to the agreement–to not publish information about Prince Harry being deployed to Afghanistan. I am also amazed that it took so long for the word to leak out. But what I am not amazed it is that a scoop seeking site like Drudge (and a million other blog sites) would publish the information. The fact that the British military and press had hopes of keeping this secret is what demonstrates the issues with transparency today. It is just darn hard in world of millions of electronic news gatherers to hide anything of consequence.

And herein is the problem, because certainly the royal family and the British military had every reason for wanting to keep the Prince’s whereabouts in a war zone protected. (Although I have to question why they can try to accomplish such protection and then crow loudly about their heroism in taking part in dangerous action. I’m old enough to remember Prince Andrew and the Falklands war.) But that is the problem–we live in an age of transparency but some secrets ought to be kept. While the British government might broker a deal with the British media, no secret is safe from the millions who post info on websites–and doing a deal with everyone won’t work.

The reality for corporations and government agencies is that they must face up to this new reality. Trust is built on openness. Secrets must be few and more extensively protected than ever before. But an organization with no secrets–or publicly declared secrets–are the ones most trusted of all.

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