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RIGHT TO KNOW POPULARIZED

The Associated Press’s Kent Cooper, sitting beside four telephones in his office. (Photograph by Bernard Hoffman, The LIFE Picture Collection, Getty Images)

January 22, 1945 – Associated Press executive director Kent Cooper popularized the phrase the “right to know” during a speech at Temple Emanu-El in New York.1Editorial, “The Right to Know,” New York Times, January 22, 1945.

In the years before that speech, Cooper worried about how the three major foreign news agencies of the time – Havas in France, Reuters in the United Kingdom, and Wolff in Germany – had divided the world into spheres of influence where each had monopolistic control over the foreign news that came in and out of them.2David Anderson,“For World Press Freedom,” Bakersfield Californian, March 24, 1943. He was also concerned about how those news agencies had become carriers of government propaganda, which he blamed for the First and Second World Wars.3Kent Cooper, Barriers Down: The Story of the News Agency Epoch (New York, NY: Farrar & Rinehart, 1942), 315; Kent Cooper, “Freedom of Information: Head of Associated Press Calls for Unhampered Flow of World News,” Life, November 13, 1944.

As a result, Cooper came to the conclusion that the American “principle of true and unbiased news” should be “given to the world in a militant effort to improve international relations.”4Kent Cooper, “Kent Cooper’s Address on the Methods of Insuring World-Wide Press Freedom,” New York Times, January 22, 1945. Underpinning this conclusion was the belief that people who truthfully know one another don’t go to war with one another. That meant establishing a “worldwide free press, a worldwide communications system, and the necessary facilities for news men to do their work everywhere without interference.” It also meant the United States should impose on its enemies, as well as any country receiving its postwar aid, the acceptance of this “right to know.”5Kent Cooper, “Kent Cooper’s Address on the Methods of Insuring World-Wide Press Freedom,” New York Times, January 22, 1945.

Following Cooper’s speech, a New York Times’s editorial called that saying a “good new phrase for an old freedom” – even though others had used it before.6Editorial, “The Right to Know,” New York Times, January 22, 1945.

This post is part of a series of articles documenting major events in the history of freedom of information in Canada. To see the complete version of that developing timeline, click here.

References   [ + ]

1, 6. Editorial, “The Right to Know,” New York Times, January 22, 1945.
2. David Anderson,“For World Press Freedom,” Bakersfield Californian, March 24, 1943.
3. Kent Cooper, Barriers Down: The Story of the News Agency Epoch (New York, NY: Farrar & Rinehart, 1942), 315; Kent Cooper, “Freedom of Information: Head of Associated Press Calls for Unhampered Flow of World News,” Life, November 13, 1944.
4, 5. Kent Cooper, “Kent Cooper’s Address on the Methods of Insuring World-Wide Press Freedom,” New York Times, January 22, 1945.

ACCESS TO INFORMATION ACT TIMELINE

This page from the House of Commons Debates Official Report shows the introduction of Bill C-39, NDP MP Barry Mather’s proposed administrative disclosure law. (Image by Library of Parliament)

The history of the Access to Information Act, the law that allows Canadians to obtain internal government records that might otherwise remain secret, isn’t well-known. So, as part of my dissertation research, I’ll be building a detailed timeline of that history – both for my own reference, as well as for those who are interested in the legislation. I’m pleased to share with you my first entry:

April 8, 1965 – New Democrat Barry Mather, a former Vancouver Sun humour columnist, became the first MP to introduce a freedom of information bill in the House of Commons.1Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Debates, 26th Parl., 3d sess., vol. 1 (1965): 92. The bill didn’t make it to second reading. So we don’t know what Mather would have said about it in the House if it had. But the Canadian Press paraphrased him as saying it was based on similar legislation in the United States, which would become law the following year.2The Canadian Press, “MP Proposes Bill to Make Records Open,” Globe and Mail, April 14, 1965. “This bill is in aid of the public’s right to know in what manner a government is administering the public duties entrusted and delegated to it by the people,” he said. “The bill enacts the basic parliamentary rule that public affairs must be conducted publicly.”3The Canadian Press, “MP Proposes Bill to Make Records Open,” Globe and Mail, April 14, 1965. In an editorial, the Globe and Mail endorsed that legislation, calling on the government to “put its blessings on the bill and ensure its passage.”4Editorial, “It’s is the Public’s Business,” Globe and Mail, April 16, 1965. But it would be another 18 years before the Access to Information Act would come into force.

As the timeline develops, you’ll be able to see the complete version here.

References   [ + ]

1. Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Debates, 26th Parl., 3d sess., vol. 1 (1965): 92.
2, 3. The Canadian Press, “MP Proposes Bill to Make Records Open,” Globe and Mail, April 14, 1965.
4. Editorial, “It’s is the Public’s Business,” Globe and Mail, April 16, 1965.