MICK JAGGER, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ADVOCATE?

The Rolling Stones were among the British musicians who became “tax exiles” in the seventies. (Photograph by Bert Verhoeff)

As a freedom of information scholar and activist, I’ve heard and read countless arguments against secrecy and in favour of openness. But an undated op-ed, printed on the United Kingdom’s All Party Committee for Freedom of Information letterhead sometime during the last half of the seventies, featured one of the oddest right to know rallying cries I’m aware of. At the time, some of the country’s most famous rock stars were “going into exile” to avoid its high taxes, which had recently increased for them thanks to the government “abolishing a concession under which money earned abroad was not taxed if it was not brought back in the country.”1David McGee, “British Rock Stars Going Into Tax Exile,” Asbury Park Press, July 4, 1976. In response, the op-ed stated:

The melody maker is the source of vast wealth which this country cannot afford to loose. But the whole of the music based industry is threatened when its top talent seeks refuge in exile from crushing taxation. Wise men do not drive away geese which lay golden eggs. If wise men are seen to be killing off these geese one knows for certain that there is a secret reason. There must be a secret reason because we are watching wise men doing it. Only madmen would destroy such geese without a reason, and we must not accuse the powers that be of madness.2All Party Committee for Freedom of Information, “The Grim Hush of Secrecy to Silence Music,” n.d.

The op-ed then suggested that music was the “prime target” of the government’s “money lender” because:

…of its unique freedom from his clutches. He hears music as a threat to the huge profits which can be obtained from lending money. What could be easier for him than to attach conditions to the borrowing of money under cover of secrecy which could cripple any industry that successfully survived without credit.3All Party Committee for Freedom of Information, “The Grim Hush of Secrecy to Silence Music,” n.d.

As a result, the op-ed stated:

If the music industry is to protect itself from the decline already suffered by the film industry it must use its link with the man in the street to create a demand for the Right to Know. The melody maker must get turned on to reform. He must resume the ancient and honourable tradition of the troubadour and once again become the herald of freedom, the champion for humanity against the darkness of Secrecy. For a human being has a basic need and a basic right to know and old secrecy deprives him of that right. When Britain was inhabited by illiterate peasants and ruled by an educated minority, affairs of State might be justly protected by secrecy as if pearls before swine. But today old Secrecy is outmoded and obsolete. The citizen needs his right to know and who better is there to champion his cause than those with a legitimate vested interest in Freedom of Information. For his own survival, and for the survival of the Nation as a whole, the Melody Maker should be in the forefront of the National Campaign to introduce Freedom of Information Legislation in the U.K.4All Party Committee for Freedom of Information, “The Grim Hush of Secrecy to Silence Music,” n.d.

References   [ + ]

1. David McGee, “British Rock Stars Going Into Tax Exile,” Asbury Park Press, July 4, 1976.
2, 3, 4. All Party Committee for Freedom of Information, “The Grim Hush of Secrecy to Silence Music,” n.d.

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