The Fifth Estate: parallels with ONE’s campaign for greater transparency


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5thestateWhat excited me most about the film “The Fifth Estate,” which opened in UK cinemas a few weeks ago, was not Benedict Cumberbatch’s handsome face or my fascination with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks – but the idea that the Internet has given the world incredible access to information. And it’s up to us to figure out how to use it to expose injustice, right wrongs and empower citizens.

ONE has been feverishly working to push for policy changes that will enable people to access information and follow the money. Greater transparency and openness can exposes hidden resources and funds that can go toward benefiting citizens, not corrupt leaders. ONE is using social media and creative digital campaigning to increase the pressure.

In just the past two years, ONE has worked on three continents to expose corruption through open data. We’ve asked African ONE members to urge their governments to publish their health budgets publicly –  so citizens can hold their leaders accountable to health spending commitments. We’ve asked US ONE members to tell Big Oil to publish what they pay to foreign governments, so those monies can go toward ending poverty – not the pockets of kleptocrats. And UK ONE members have urged David Cameron to shut down the phantom firms that shady dealers use to launder their money.

This is not quite the “fifth estate” – the term (which is still up for debate) to describe the act of holding governments and institutions accountable through citizen-driven information – that the film depicts, but rather asking our members to demand more and better information. We want citizens to be responsible and ethical about how they use this data, and believe that activists – especially those who work with ONE – should funnel it toward fighting extreme poverty.

“The Fifth Estate” shows how top hackers and bloggers use Machiavellian means to publish secret government documents. But what it doesn’t show is that change is already coming from within, at the behest of informed citizens speaking out about the information they need to make their lives better. For the world to achieve the end of extreme poverty by 2030, we must hold governments to a higher standard of transparency. 

Openness is catching on, on a global scale. Organisations like the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative, the International Aid Transparency Initiative, Publish What You Fund and the Open Government Partnership have paved the way for a new generation of open data, and are working to make data more “readable” for citizens. And citizens are starting to see the value of open data. To date, ONE members have taken more than 300,000 actions to make government data around the world more transparent.

This week, government representatives and civil society will meet in London for the Open Government Partnership. This voluntary partnership has grown to 60 countries, and amidst panels and discussions with civil society, governments will outline their plans to ensure that they are moving toward openness. We’ll let to let you know what they commit to tomorrow.

In the meantime, check out our outrageous fake company to see just how easy it is to set up a phantom firm, and join the campaign for greater transparency.

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