Heather Brooke is a freelance journalist, freedom of information campaigner and professor of journalism at City University London. In 2005, she filed one of the very first requests under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act, asking to see the expense reports of Members of Parliament. The request was blocked, modified and refiled, and blocked again…but the years-long quest to view expense documents, and the subsequent investigation, led to 2009’s parliamentary expenses scandal.

Vocabulary Notes

to slag off – to criticize (someone) in an abusive and insulting manner.

a bidder — a person or organization making a formal offer for something, especially at an auction.

to pry – to enquire too inquisitively into a person’s private affairs

hassle — irritating inconvenience

to embezzle – to steal or misappropriate 

humility — the quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance

whistle-blower — a person who informs on a person or organization regarded as engaging in an unlawful or immoral activity

I Watch the presentation to answer the questions:

  1. What comparison does Heather use to describe human society?
  2. What was the result of her investigation into the government corruption?
  3. What is democratization of information? What are the new trends in society Heather describes?
  4. Write down the names of the web-sites and projects Heather names that help people fight corruption all over the world?
  5. Does she consider leaks to be an illegal way to get information?
  6. Heather’s speech starts and finishes with the words that we typically find in fairy-tales. Why does she use this stylistic device?

II Reproduce the context in which each of the following has been used:

  1. expense receipts
  2. to revolutionize the British Parliament
  3. to retrospectively change the law
  4. to be no longer content with that arrangement
  5. to try to suppress it
  6. top-down hierarchy
  7. an archive of public knowledge
  8. to spearhead the project
  9. to rely on illegitimate ways of getting information
  10. endemic corruption
  11. to suppress or hide information that is in the public interest

III Discuss in pairs:

  • Should  people fight for the right to subject the work of governmental officials to public scrutiny? What are the ways of monitoring the government activities?
  • What role does investigative journalism play in your country? Do you know any investigative journalists? Have they ever exposed any misuse of power?

IV Speak Up

Read some of the comments written in response to Heather’s  talk. Try to figure out implications of each statement and say whether you agree or disagree with them:

  • WE need to remember, WE are the employers and THEY are the contract employees (4 years). They clearly need to respect the fact that WE pay them to do a job, and that WE have the right to ensure that WE are getting what WE are paying for.
  • My only concern though is where is the line the transparency of information and invasion of privacy start? Even politicians have the right to privacy but we as the people who put the in power have the right to know what they are doing with our resources, time etc etc etc. 
  • What I would love to know is how one implements something like that in countries where: 
    — Level of corruption in government stretches to the legal system 
    — You can be just «accidentally killed» if you leak something like that 
    -. Or.. you would be given an official version of information from government. 
    — The government and the opposition have been lying for so many decades, it’s hard to know what’s true or not anymore.
  • Exposing MP’s expenses is good, no doubt. But it only works in countries like UK, where democracy somehow but still works.
  • There is a hypocrisy within this talk: On the one hand, Brooke promotes transparency and accountability for the actions of our leaders. But on the other hand, she condemns government spying on its citizenry to weed out troublemakers. These are two aspects of the same behavior: Transparency for the sake of accountability, to enforce behaviors considered appropriate by a third party.