Public interest, according to the Random House Dictionary, is “1. the welfare or well-being of the general public; commonwealth. 2. appeal or relevance to the general populace: a news story of public interest.“
I am going to focus on the first of these two definitions, ‘the welfare or well-being of the general public‘.
In the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA]1 it states that for information to be disclosed to the public the information must be in the public’s interest or good.
The instrument used to determine what should be disclosed to the pubic or can rightly be withheld from release is called ‘the public interest test’’. The test states, that “There is a wide difference between what is interesting to the public and what it is in the public interest to make known”.2 This test is applied to information requests in order to determine the legitimacy3 of the request for the information to be disclosed to the pubic.
What we as the public have the right4 to know.
The test for the purpose of disclosure is whether releasing the information to the public is in the public’s best interest not simply whether or not the information may be of interest to the public. The latter is not an argument for release.
If something is in the public interest or good, it is in the interest of the public that they be told about it; that the information (being disclosed) bears in some way on their wellbeing or decision making as ‘the public’. I would argue, that the public ought to be given the opportunity to participate in the discourse being created by others, that ultimately, directly or indirectly, bears on them in some way as ‘the public’.
I would define ‘in the public interest’ not as any information the public would like to know but any information the public ought to know.
The distinction is a moral one.
I would like to think this drives my work. I try and create live oral communication performances about topics that I think it is my responsibility to be informed on, politically, culturally or morally.
I create live oral communication performances in which others perform their thoughts and ideas. I can create these performances on any topic but I choose to focus on topics that deal with an ethical or moral dilemma; in which questions are raised about something the public ought to but may not know; an issue that it is in their interest as the public to know.
Topics come to me variously and I am always interested in new challenges but of particular interest are those where the public should have a better understanding of the issues; should be more aware of the discourse both in its entirety and how it was created; what influenced it.
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- This points directly to the second of the two definitions of ‘public interest’ as noted above from the Random House Dictionary.
- legitimacy – conformity to law, rule, or principle; lawfulness; conformity to sound reasoning, logicality.
- right – 3. entitlement or justifiable claim, on legal or moral grounds, to have or obtain something, or to act in a certain way. 5. A legal, equitable, or moral title or claim to the possession of property or authority, the enjoyment of privileges or immunities, etc. Also, (dial) an obligation (usu. in neg. contexts) Foll. by to, to do, (now chiefly Law) of (doing); also freq. with specifying word (when usu. in pl.)