If you work at Fox News, you enabled Roger Ailes

Fox Real Time logo on Fox News Channel''

Fox Real Time logo on Fox News Channel” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For 20 years, Roger Ailes ruled over Fox News like a personal fiefdom. He was in control and everyone knew it. If you did not do as he wanted, you would soon find that you were no longer needed. Even if you were successful, he would get rid of you. Despite removing females hosts from successful shows, Ailes was never questioned by Rupert Murdoch about his behaviour. Despite complaints and lawsuits against him, the Fox News Human Resources managers never confronted him to stop his behaviour. Despite the stories[1], no one blew the whistle on Roger Ailes. Why?

We have HR policies but the powerful don’t follow them.

The company claims that it “observ[es] the rules of civility and mutual respect.”[2] Yet, we know that the many lawsuits, complaints, and stories show that this claim was a lie.[3] It was a pious fraud. As Roger Ailes strode the halls, he created a culture of fear, sexual harassment[4], and employee silence.[5] He benefitted from that culture and he encouraged it by those he promoted and those he demoted. So, how did it occur?

Sex sells. Stop being a prude. Grow up!

Let’s consider the obvious rationalisation. As Roger Ailes is quoted as saying, “television is a visual medium; comments about appearance are common because people watch television, they do not merely listen to it.”[6] On the surface, this makes sense in a sexist way. Sex sells. Women dressed in form fitting, revealing, and sexually appealing ways will attract viewers of a certain age and type. These viewers, in turn, will attract advertisers who wish to profit from them. In such an atmosphere, it is understandable that women will be marketed as a sexual commodity. One would suggest that Ailes defence is that he is simply stating the obvious. Yet, even as that it explains one problem; why the women treated as sexual objects and commodities, it raises the deeper more troubling question: Why was sexual harassment tolerated off the air?

If we sell women as sexual objects on air, we expect them to behave that way off the air.

Here we start to see that the sexual commodity defence, as suggested by Ailes, points to the deeper cultural problem within Fox News. If women on air, the on air talent, are sexual commodities, packaged, directed, and produced by Ailes, why not off air as well? It would be almost hypocritical, if we follow Ailes’s logic, to package and promote the women as sexual commodities, and then behave as if they are not sexual commodities when they are off the air. Moreover, he appeared to expect the women to follow his orders just as the men slavishly, like obedient puppy dogs cowed by a vicious owner, followed his.[7] The strong tell the weak what to do. The weak are expected to obey or leave. Only between equals is there justice and Fox News under Ailes did not work on that principle.

If the system lets me succeed, why should I rock the boat?

In their own way, the Fox News women accepted and participated in this culture. They accepted that they had to strip to their underwear as a group during the bi-annual “trunk shows”. If anything tells you that they are commodities it is that humiliating ritual. Men did not have to suffer the same indignity. Were men dressed to accentuate their physical attributes? Were any told to wear tight fitting trousers? No. We have no evidence that the men were subjected to such humiliation? Instead, the ritual reminds the Fox News women of their status. They are a commodity. They will have to compete for the best dresses. Moreover, a number of women, the on-air talent, supported Ailes publicly. They defended him against Gretchen Carlson’s comments until it emerged she had recording to prove her claims. In that light, we see women who either accepted what Ailes had done or were too frightened to disagree.

Why file a complaint if no one is listening?

The women also accepted this culture in the sense that complaints never reached any of the Murdochs. The Murdochs insisted they were unaware of Ailes behaviour until Gretchen Carlson complained to James Murdoch. The paucity of formal complaints despite the plethora of sexual harassment stories raises the question about employee voice. Was there was an institutional silence in which employees did not pass such bad news upwards? Were the junior employees habituated to remain silent? Such a silence would be created by the fear that Ailes and his loyal followers fostered. Those who supported him and did his bidding, either male or female, were rewarded. Those who did not follow him or provide him what he wanted were punished.[8]

I want to keep my job, so I will attack anyone who attacks Roger Ailes

On the surface, the employee silence makes sense. The Fox News staff want to keep their jobs. They will not speak up. Even though they are journalists and investigative journalists, they know that they cannot ask questions. They know the consequences. They will know the stories[9]. They will repeat the stories. In time, the stories become the culture.[10] The culture soon shapes behaviour. When complaints are made, the employee knows that they may only displace the harassment, they will not end it or change the culture. In that culture, the HR no longer stops harassment so much as manages it. Perhaps this is the most chilling part of the Ailes story, how HR never challenged or changed the culture.[11] Even when he is gone and Rupert Murdoch making the necessary soothing noises about “not knowing about it” and his sons making the reassurances that “we continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect. We take seriously our responsibility to uphold these traditional, long-standing values of our company.”[12]

Organisational silence leads to a muted moral conscience

What enabled Roger Ailes was that Fox New encouraged an organisational silence within which employees developed a muted moral conscience. The muted moral conscience develops when a corporate culture encourages or requires moral blindness, moral silence, and moral deafness.[13]

Morally mute means you do not speak up.

An employee is morally mute when they:

“do not recognizably communicate their moral concerns in settings where such communicating would be fitting”.

We can see this when the complaints were not addressed. When HR refused to confront Ailes over the claims. When the senior managers refused to confront Ailes’ behaviour or the behaviour of other senior managers. The senior managers and the junior employees ignored the abuse of power, the daily sexist behaviour, and the humiliating rituals and they remained mute.

Morally deaf means you ignore the problem as long as he makes you money.

An employee is morally deaf when they:

“Do not hear and do not respond to moral issues that have been raised by others”.

We can see this in the way the company has responded to the claims.[14] They issued a barrage of denials and various Fox News affiliated commentators publicly attacked the claims and the complainants. Now that 21st Century Fox settled the $20 Million lawsuit and Ailes resigned, what does it say about these claims? We have to consider that the comments organized to enforce the culture and discourage others from speaking up or out?[15] Even after it emerged that Carlson had recorded Ailes’s statements, Ailes continued to have his defenders?[16]

Morally blind means you look the other way or attack those who complain.

Even though most sexual harassment is done privately or with few people to witness it, the overall sexist culture is on display. The women and the senior managers and top executives were blind to it. Rupert Murdoch in particular should be singled out for his moral blindness. He seems congenitally unaware of any wrongdoing within his companies.[17] An employee is morally blind when they:

“when they fail to see or recognize moral concerns and expectations that bear upon their activities and involvements.”

When we consider the other complaints about sexual harassment that were made and the pattern over 20 years, we have to consider that Fox News employees, in particular Rupert Murdoch and his sons were morally blind. They waited until Gretchen Carlson came with an irrefutable claim before they acted. They did not exercise a moral conscience; they simply did what was needed to protect their business interests.

Is your company a Fox News?

Even though the post focuses on Fox News; it could be any company.

  • Does your company foster a moral conscience?
  • Do your employees have the ability to speak up to voice their concerns?
  • Are all of your employees treated equally or do senior managers get special treatment?
  • If your Chief Executive was the problem could your HR department confront him?


[1] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/07/six-more-women-allege-ailes-sexual-harassment.html

[2] http://nation.foxnews.com/our-purpose

[3] http://documents.gawker.com/here-is-gretchen-carlson-s-sexual-harassment-complaint-1783200300

[4] Roger Ailes at all times in all fora has denied all charges and claims related to the stories about sexual harassment at Fox News and beyond. He has denied all charges and all claims despite Fox News settling nearly $25 million dollars of sexual harassment lawsuits that involve him.

[5] http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/08/exclusive-inside-the-fox-news-bunker-roger-ailes

[6] http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a48768/andrea-tantaros-roger-ailes-fox-news/ The statement is taken from his court filing in response to a sexual harassment lawsuit.

[7] “Well, Steve Doocy, as David pointed out, was her co-host for many years and he still is the co-host of the “Fox & Friends” morning show. It’s important to note that Steve Doocy is one of the ultimate Roger Ailes loyalists. As I’ve reported multiple times, Steve Doocy will take direct dictation from Roger Ailes and repeat talking points on the air to inject his political point of view into the program. So by bringing Doocy in this, really, Gretchen Carlson is showing how Roger Ailes created a culture, both a political culture, but also a culture towards women that people who were — men who were promoted to very high level of the network sort of understood that this culture was acceptable and took part in it.” https://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2016-08-08/the-lawsuit-against-former-fox-news-chairman-roger-ailes-sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace

[8] http://www.vox.com/2016/8/15/12416662/roger-ailes-fox-sexual-harassment-women-list

[9] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3681149/Fox-News-sex-discrimination-bombshell-make-artists-Megyn-Kelly-Gretchen-Carlson-claim-called-b-s-forced-watch-graphic-sex-videos-fired-complained.html The complaints went to the EEOC which is the US Federal Government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Although the complaints were not upheld by the EEOC, that did not mean that the complaints were unfounded. It means that the EEOC did not find enough evidence to trigger a federal investigation.  One has to ask why the senior managers were unaware of a Federal complaint about sexual harassment within the workplace.

[10] This paraphrases Clifford Geertz’s famous definition: “”stories we tell ourselves about ourselves”.” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/clifford-geertz-422716.html

[11] According to New York’s Gabriel Sherman, Kelly had gone to former Fox News P.R. executive Brian Lewis four years ago, in 2012, concerned about allegations that would later end up in Sherman’s 2014 biography of Ailes. (According to a Sherman source, Lewis’s attempts to intervene with Ailes were rebuffed.) http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/09/megyn-kelly-fox-news-roger-ailes

[12] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/07/21/roger-ailes-resigns-as-fox-news-chairman-rupert-murdoch-assumes-acting-role.html

[13] Brother Secret, Sister Silence: Sibling Conspiracies against Managerial Integrity

William De Maria Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 65, No. 3 (May, 2006), pp. 219-234

[14] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/06/could-fox-news-chairman-roger-ailes-become-the-next-bill-cosby.html

[15] http://www.thewrap.com/fox-news-boss-roger-ailes-vs-gretchen-carlson-supporters-on-each-side-of-the-sexual-harassment-lawsuit-updating-photos/5/ For example, Greta Van Susteren publicly supported Ailes but then left soon after he did. http://www.politico.com/media/story/2016/09/greta-van-susteren-abruptly-leaves-fox-news-004744 The other women will have to explain to their own conscience why they defend Ailes and whether their views will have changed as Carlson had taped Ailes’s behaviour.

[16] http://variety.com/2016/tv/news/gretchen-carlson-roger-ailes-fox-news-1201851105/

[17] http://leveson.sayit.mysociety.org/hearing-26-april-2012/mr-keith-murdoch#s68582

Posted in change, compliance, coruption, culture, path dependency, renewal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Silence and the South Yorkshire Police

South Yorkshire Police

South Yorkshire Police (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For 27 years, the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) were institutionally silent about their Hillsborough failures. For 27 years the officers maintained their silence. For 27 years, they fought hard to deny the truth. The issue was not a dispute over evidence. The issue was not about interpretations. The issue was between truth and lies. The Police chose to defend the lies. There are now criminal investigations into the lies. The same approach emerged with the Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) scandal within Rotherham. As the Drew Report found, the police lacked professional curiosity.[1]

Where is the debate over police, ethics, culture, and leadership?

What we do not have is a debate or investigation into the police culture of silence. The silence enabled a force to preside over the Orgreave, Hillsborough, and Rotherham scandals without breaking its silence about its behaviour or its effect. Beyond the SYP organisational silence, there has to be an inquiry into how the other police forces could maintain the same silence. It is one thing for the SYP to defend themselves against allegations. It is another for other forces, the entire UK police force, to maintain a professional silence on these institutional and moral failures.

At first sight, it would be easy to blame the leadership. As David Conn’s article describes, the SYP (and likely other police forces) had an authoritarian leadership.

The evidence built into a startling indictment of South Yorkshire police, their chain of command and conduct – a relentlessly detailed evisceration of a British police force. Responsible for an English county at the jeans-and-trainers end of the 1980s, the force had brutally policed the miners’ strike, and was described by some of its own former officers as “regimented”, with morning parade and saluting of officers, ruled by “an iron fist” institutionally unable to admit mistakes.

The dominance of Wright, a decorated career police officer who died in 2011, loomed over the catastrophe. He was depicted as a frighteningly authoritarian figure who treated the force “like his own personal territory” and whose orders nobody – tragically – dared debate.[2]

On the surface, this makes sense. The police officers at SYP were too scared to speak out or up. They were scared to tell the truth. They were more afraid of their boss than the law or the truth. They understood, and the organisation demanded, that their obedience to the organisation was more important than acting as a moral agent or upholding the law when it conflicted with their organisation.

I can see this logic. It makes sense in a certain way as grown men, men willing to confront killers, simply lost all nerve and became fearful, timid, and quiet when they faced their leadership. They understood that if they wanted to keep their job, they had to toe the line. They traded their moral agency for a secure job and a payslip. One has to ask if the price was worth it. However, for some officers, potentially many, they had no moral conflict. Indeed, they will have agreed with how the SYP conducted itself and dealt with those at Orgreave, Hillsborough, and Rotherham. In a word, they agreed with, accepted, and propagated the culture as they found it. They wanted to punish the guilty and why should they question orders when they agreed with them? For these officers, they would not disagree with anything the SYP did or does since they do not see any law moral or legal superior to the organisation. The only problem is that the organisation was caught or exposed without the suitable gratitude for what they do to keep the public safe. What they wanted to do above all was to protect the organisation for they understood that it protected them. We have to move beyond this analysis to understand the institutional silence that silenced any employee voice within the organisation.

Institutional silence and employee voice

What I hope to explore is how institutional silence and employee voice, or its absence, can explain how the SYP and other police forces could be quiet for 27 years. In particular, I want to examine how the SYP and the other force, including those that represent the police, could be silent when the truth of Hillsborough came out. The goal is to connect this silence and lack of voice to the way the organisational could create employees with muted moral consciences display moral blindness, the moral silence, and the moral deafness. They saw what the SYP did at Orgreave, Hillsborough and Rotherham, but they have remained silent. They have not spoken up or out. Why? Are they similarly frightened, timid, and quiet? Are the police ruled more by fear than the truth or the law? Is the policy bargain one where an officer trades his moral agency to be protected by the organisation and in return the organisation maintains a silence?

Within an organisation, there are many causes for silence. In this analysis, I rely on De Maria’s work who quotes [3] Fredrick Bird. Bird argues that an employee develops a muted conscience through three related processes. They are:

(1) moral silence,

(2) moral deafness, and

(3) moral blindness.

An employee is morally mute when they:

 “do not recognizably communicate their moral concerns in settings where such communicating would be fitting” (p. 27).

We can see this when police officers fail to speak up or out about moral concerns. When they ignore abuse of power, altered notebooks, or planted evidence, they no longer communicate their moral concerns. In a more direct sense, an officer is morally mute when he refuses to testify against officers who have engaged in abuse or criminal activity.

An employee is morally deaf when they:

“do not hear and do not respond to moral issues that have been raised by others” (p. 55).

For the SYP this seems to be a practice within the senior management and a common trait across the police. We can see this in the way that whistle-blowers have been suppressed, discredited, and disavowed.[4] In some cases, people who were involved with reporting police corruption were killed.[5]

An employee is morally blind when they:

“when they fail to see or recognize moral concerns and expectations that bear upon their activities and involvements” (p. 85)

In this category, we can see the problem for police. They are prone to a certain type of corruption called “noble cause” corruption. In this corruption, the officer justifies their illegal or immoral acts as serving a “noble cause”. The ends justify the means without concern for the laws, society, or morality. The problem can occur at the senior levels when the attitude emerges that “As long as the “paperwork is clean”, you can do what you want.” In other words, senior officers do not see a problem with abuse of power by junior officers as long as the results serve the organisation or the preferred outcome.

Employee Silence

At the root of these problems is employee silence. Employee silence is when employees don’t feel comfortable speaking to their bosses about what is wrong in the organisation. They may withhold information or they don’t speak of issues that affect them. Such silence is more than interpersonal issues for it reflects a chosen behaviour within the wider organisation. The chooses as a conscious strategy to remain silent. In this they reflect their own motives as well as the organisation’s approach to employee voice. Although many studies have focused on individual employee motives[6], the problem of employee silence fits within a wider challenge of organisational silence where the structure deters employees from speaking up or speaking out.[7] In particular, there is a deep seated belief within the Police, as identified by the Drew Review that disagreement or voice is dissent. Despite the demonstrated reality that decisions improve when multiple viewpoints are considered as does subsequent performance. Moreover, one has to ask how such an authoritarian culture can exist within the society that claims to be democratic. We see the deeper tension between the Crown institutions, (the police swear an oath to the Queen, not the law, the people, or Parliament before any other oath) and the democratic veneer that the people accept. The deeper reality is the UK institutions remain authoritarian and anti-democratic which they display with varying degrees of intensity internally and externally.

Employee or institutional silence can have severe consequences. In particular, it can lead to a muted conscience. Bird describes six consequences from a muted conscience.

(1) moral concerns not addressed;

(2) accountability systems become dysfunctional;

(3) moral stress increases;

(4) moral development is impeded;

(5) management control and scrutiny increases; and

(6) the role of ethics is marginalized and confused (pp. 125-140).

These six areas describe many of the facets of the SYP culture over the past 30 years.

Moral concerns

The moral concerns were not addressed even if they were recognized. The force went from Orgreave, to Hillsborough, to Rotherham without a change in culture or practice. The accountability structures that existed were dysfunctional and failed to capture the problems or hold officers to account in a meaningful way. In a sense, the normal accountability structures became a shield to avoid morally difficult tasks. For example, the Chief Superintendent could claim that the reason he did not act on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) was that burglary was the community’s priority. Such a response appears valid and reasonable until we examine it. We see that CSE is a hidden crime, which means that if the community were to have it as a priority things would be so obvious that the police would already be intervening. Moreover, the senior officer would be expected to consider if a crime is affecting vulnerable people. One would expect the police to have a strategic triage to consider the severity of the crime, the scale of the crime, and victim profile. There is no sense patrolling an industrial estate with a greater intensity than a children’s home. When officers were held to account, the abuse was so egregious it could not be ignored. Even then, the officers were often allowed to resign or retire instead of being held to account as well as contest the scale, scope, and severity of the crimes.

Accountability systems.

All public sector organisations rely on inspection regimes of some form be they from a private auditor or a public regulator. Such regimes, though, are only as good as their ability to see within the police force for it relies upon a certain level of institutional honesty and self-awareness. We must always remember that when Peter Donnelly was killed while being supervised by Haringey Council, Ofsted gave them three stars for children services. In fact, the head of Children Services used their stars as a defence when they were being held to account for his death. Haringey was able to claim it was an outstanding service even though the reality, upon closer inspection, was different.[8]

Even though the police are quick to point to their inspection reports, the question remains whether they are as thorough as they claim. As anyone who has managed an inspection knows, the inspector relies on the organisation to be institutionally honest. The organisation will always present itself in the best light possible. A more sophisticated approach will be to admit to some minor or inconsequential flaws or faults to suggest the organisation is honest. What is rarely considered, though, are the questions of bad news such as those which existed within Rotherham Council. We know that they had many inspections that failed to identify problem’s scale, scope and severity.

Moral Stress

Within the force, the moral stress would appear within the staff if they are unable to speak up or speak out about what they have seen. One result will be increased stress leading to sickness absence.[9] One could argue that the moral stress of Orgreave and Hillsborough contributed to the moral blindness in the Rotherham scandal. In this way, the moral stress is related to the employees, and by extension the organisation’s moral trajectory. The moral trajectory from Orgreave to Rotherham shows that moral development was impeded as the organisation did not become more transparent nor did it develop increased sensitivity to its moral responsibilities.

Management Control.

The management control continued as senior officers feared bad press so sought to control the media message. In the aftermath of these crises, we are told they can be explained in part by the force’s authoritarian leadership. The leadership created a culture which did not tolerate dissent. The desire for increased control contributed to the employee and institutional silence which helped to create the muted moral consciences. The control served the leadership and the organisation, it did not protect against moral failings as it has emerged that SYP officers were involved in the abuse.

What we see across the preceding items is that moral or ethical issues were minimized. The SYP culture was one that deferred to its leadership. The junior officers surrendered their moral agency as ethical issues were not discussed. If they were discussed, it was in a superficial or marginal way. What we saw in Rotherham Council is that officers stopped thinking about what they were doing. When they stopped thinking, the stopped being moral agents. They did not think about the moral consequences.


We know that SYP suffered from employee and institutional silence. The silence created a muted moral conscience. In turn, this had specific consequences for the SYP. The lessons, though, are applicable to any police force. When they fail to be sensitive to their individual and institutional moral conscience, when they become morally deaf, morally blind, and morally mute; they begin the process by which they will become physical bullies and moral cowards. They will justify their behaviour as being justified by the ends they served. They served the Crown. They served the law. In a healthy society and a healthy organisation, one would expect public officials to reflect on their behaviour. Without such reflection, one reduces society and politics to “might makes right”. We can hope that the Drew report and other changes at SYP signal a new future. However, to avoid past behaviour affecting future behaviour, SYP has to change its culture to one that is open to employee voice and understand that multiple viewpoints improve decisions and performance.**

** The issue is path dependency. Will the SYP follow the previous path or forge a new one?  http://www.wiwiss.fu-berlin.de/forschung/pfadkolleg/downloads/AMR_09.pdf

Jorg Sydow, Georg Schreyogg, Jochen  Organizational Path Dependence: Opening the Black Box Academy of Management Review 2009, Vol. 34, No. 4, 689–709.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-35873469  The report admits that it operated under severe constraints. Constraints that suggest its value is superficial for it almost reinforces the narrative that while things were bad in the past, SYP have learned their lessons and things are getting better. The focus on causes moves beyond the organisation or its culture to an external agent, the targets, society, the government, just so long as SYP does not have to look into itself.

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/apr/26/hillsborough-disaster-deadly-mistakes-and-lies-that-lasted-decades

[3] Brother Secret, Sister Silence: Sibling Conspiracies against Managerial Integrity

William De Maria Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 65, No. 3 (May, 2006), pp. 219-234

[4] http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/police-turned-on-pc-who-blew-the-whistle-1-2463707

[5] There is a strong allegation that Daniel Morgan was about to reveal extensive police corruption when he was killed. http://thejusticegap.com/2015/05/the-more-i-discovered-the-worse-it-got/

[6] Organizational Silence: A Barrier to Change and Development in a Pluralistic World

Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison and Frances J. Milliken The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Oct., 2000), pp. 706-725

[7] Conceptualizing Employee Silence and Employee Voice as Multidimensional Constructs Linn Van Dyne, Soon Ang and Isabel C. Botero in Journal of Management Studies 40:6 September 2003 pp 1359-1392

[8] What the case revealed was the superficiality of such inspections for they never asked the right questions nor were the services being inspected going to provide honest answers. Both sides had an incentive not to ask difficult question or to offer difficult problems.

[9] http://www.southyorks.police.uk/sites/default/files/20130664%20-%20Staff%20stress%20etc%20-%20publish.pdf this table is only a snapshot. However, it is indicative of the challenges facing the SYP. Two caveats must be noted. First, it can only reflect the period after the FOIA became law. Before 2005, it would be difficult to find this information. Second, the SYP of this era is different from the one that went from Orgreave, to Hillsborough. However, the cultural and moral consequences of the approach to those incidents will have shaped the approach to the Rotherham crisis.


Posted in bureaucracy, change managment, coruption, culture, leadership, path dependency | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Who was going to stop Roger Ailes?

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive O...

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, News Corporation, USA and Co-Chair, Annual Meeting 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In any organisation, the question is never “how did sexual harassment occur”, it is “who is going to stop it?” The organisation will not stop it unless someone stops him. The organisation as organisation will simply continue to function as necessary to deliver profits and serve its customers. The organisation, like any tool, will only do as it is told. As an organisation lacks agency, sexual harassment and bullying can become part of the culture since it is the organisation’s agents which act. The company will have policies, procedures, guidance, and training yet none of this will matter if individuals will not act on them. As we now know, Roger Ailes settled sexual harassment lawsuits without changing his behaviour. He was in a position where he could not be challenged on his behaviour for no junior employee could challenge him and no one senior to him cared to stop him. The company did not require him to change his behaviour, it did not discipline or dismiss him. The company saw the lawsuits as the cost of doing business and as we know, Roger Ailes was making the company a lot of money.

The organisation protects the powerful for it reflects their interests.

Senior executives, like celebrities, have an institutional armour as their status protects them. In most, but not all, sexual harassment cases, it is a senior employee harassing a junior employee. The sexual harassment reflects a disparity in organisational power. When a senior officer harasses a junior officer for sexual favours or treats them with disrespect, it is bullying by other means. The institutionally stronger employee, demands, and sometimes receives, favours from the organizationally weaker employee. The strong rule the weak in such a relationship. At Fox News, like most companies has policies, procedures, and training create a procedural equality. These documents create the appearance of a culture that complies with the law against sexual harassment. In this case, though, the organisation failed in its duty. Any equality was a sham, the company aided and abetted a senior officer’s abusive behaviour. Moreover, the company has only removed Ailes, it has not changed its culture.

Women, Fox News only cared who made more money.

The culture is set by the top and at the top we find Rupert Murdoch. He could have stopped Ailes sooner, but he didn’t. Those that he appointed to replace Ailes could have stopped him, but they didn’t. Why should they when Ailes was making so much money for them? Ailes was not liked because of who he was, his intrinsic worth, but because of what he delivered for the company. As long as he was useful to Fox News and Rupert Murdoch he would be tolerated and protected. Such a relationship tells us about the corporate culture, “it is how we do things around here”, since it shows the staff what is important and what will be tolerated. If you make the company money, or you are a senior officer, you can transgress the policies and procedures that others have to follow. For the women of Fox News, the message is that the culture disrespects them. Murdoch only acted against Ailes when it suited him, not when it when it mattered to the women.

In Murdoch’s organisations money and loyalty appear to be are all that matter. The policies and social responsibility statements provide the appearance of procedural equality. Yet, as long as Ailes was making money, Murdoch and the company had no interested in his behaviour. More to the point, who was going to complain to Murdoch about Ailes? Would Murdoch listen to such complaints if an employee had the temerity to approach him? Would he pass this off to HR who would then in turn do what they did previously – nothing. The brutal message to any female employee is clear. Money matters more than principles and as long as we make money you can and will be harassed and bullied.

The fish rots from the head down

We know that organisations go toxic when their leadership are toxic. An organisation will take its cues from its leadership. Staff are encouraged to conform to the organisational culture which creates an organisational silence in such matters. Ailes set the corporate culture and employees followed or looked the other way. Even now Murdoch and the other senior managers want to avoid their moral responsibility for what Ailes has done. They and the senior managers point to Ailes’ secrecy and independence to explain how he was able to get away with it. Others have pointed to a culture of fear where Ailes did not entertain questions and people did not ask them. Even if these claims are true it does not avoid their moral responsibility. If anything, it makes the situation worse. A leader can only create a culture of fear or secrecy if others, both above him and below him, enable that behaviour. The board and senior managers, those paid to push back and challenge, did not hold him to account. Murdoch was either complicit in the behaviour or, once again, asleep and in the dark. One wonders if he knows if anything is going wrong in his companies. The other senior officers carried out his orders, *even though* they know it created a culture of harassment which was ethically and morally wrong. At no point did senior managers push back or seek to restrain him. It is these same managers that Murdoch has promoted to replace Ailes. As long as Ailes delivered the results they wanted, they turned their face. They chose wilful ignorance. Fox News has an ethical structure where this behaviour was accepted and endorsed.

Murdoch companies suffer ethical lapse that reflect his ethical blindness.

Ailes behaviour is not out of the ordinary in Murdoch media companies. We know from other Murdoch organisations that such abuse and bullying was tolerated. At the now defunct News of the World (NOTW), the then editor Andy Coulson was described as a bully by an employment tribunal.[1] He was not disciplined or dismissed even though the paper had to pay out almost 1.5 million dollars for a tribunal claim. The tribunal’s finding of fact was that he engaged in bullying. The tribunal also found the management team contributed to and aided the bullying of an employee suffering mental health issues.[2] None of the managers defended the employee from his bullying. They failed in their ethical and moral duties. They surrender their ethical responsibility. Not a single manager showed the moral courage to push back and resist the bullying.

Murdoch companies and employees show a disturbing pattern.

The NOTW’s corporate culture was toxic. We know that bullying was rife within the organisation, which was ignored because the editor and the paper were making money. We know the editor and the corporate legal affairs manager put people under surveillance.[3] The legal manager admitted that he had ordered surveillance of opposing lawyers. The editors often attacked critics and those people who displeased either Murdoch or one of his friends. The UK’s Leveson Inquiry revealed that the tabloid culture was toxic. Tabloids, in particular the Murdoch press, would “monster” someone.[4] Monstering is where a paper publishes a series of articles attacking a person, their character, job, or family. They are targeted because the paper, the editor, or the proprietor want to harm them. They are chosen either to send a political message or because they are a critics or enemy. It is a method to control the public domain for it demonstrate the paper’s political power. The method also deters those who might think of crossing the paper and its chosen allies.

Ailes ran his company in nearly the same way The News of the World was run.

Roger Ailes is alleged to have run Fox News with a similar approach. Ailes had political operatives and private detectives to attack his critics.[5] He used the company to further his interests. His interests were the company’s interests. Ailes appears to have behaved at Fox News just as NOTW behaved. From what has been reported, Ailes and the News of the World, enjoyed being a bully and punishing those they did not like.[6] The institutional and organisational bullying is accepted behaviour. The employees accept and promote it by their tacit or open support for the organisation and its culture. The employees are the culture by their ability to enable through a failure to act. If anything, the Ailes case demonstrates the moral cowardice that exists within Fox News and its employees. A fish rots from the head down and the inside out.

Was Ailes pushed by internal politics than a desire to do the right thing?

In any organisation, there has to be a way to stop such behaviour. Some rely on whistle blowers. Other companies have a clear zero tolerance policy. Many have mandatory training and awareness programmes. These programmes are enforced with regular monitoring to protect staff from predatory behaviour. Fox News dealt with it by an internal investigation. The investigation was to deal with a potential lawsuit. Even though the company, in its reputation management mode, was quick to point out that it investigates all sexual harassment claims, they have not explained how Ailes was able to settle sexual harassment lawsuits without oversight. Moreover, they have not explained why he was not disciplined or dismissed. Instead Ailes was able to resign, with a large payment, without a public apology or admission. Despite the seriousness of the accusation, it is likely his departure has more to do with the internal politics, as Murdoch and sons found an opportunity to remove him, than from an organisational desire to do the right thing.[7] What is clear is the culture has not changed. The senior managers who were complicit in such behaviour remain at the organisation. So, what was the point of the change?

To stop Ailes and his culture requires moral courage.

Despite the special characteristics that make this a Fox News scandal, the fundamental issue is the same for all organisations. “Who will stop such behaviour when it comes from the top?” Is there anyone in Fox News or any organisation with the necessary moral courage to confront such behaviour and change it? From what we have seen for the past 30 years at Fox News, the answer is no. At other companies, the answer is different. At Fox News one has to ask, “How do the employees live with the knowledge they work in, enable, and represent such a culture?”

[1] Andy Coulson, was named in a tribunal case in which the News of the World had to pay out nearly £800000.  “[A] tribunal ordered the News of the World to pay Driscoll, 41, £792,736 in compensation for being the victim of “a consistent pattern of bullying behaviour” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/press/the-reporter-who-took-on-the-news-of-the-world-and-won-1830378.html   see also http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/mar/13/andy-coulson-bullying-boss-news-world-clive-goodman  If readers are interested, Mr. Coulson denies he is a bully. He claimed the Tribunal was unfair in its judgement. His witness statement can be read here: http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Witness-Statement-of-Andy-Coulson.pdf  The Tribunal judgement can be read here: http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Exhibit-1-to-M-Driscoll.pdf   The salient paragraphs are paragraphs 106 and 116 and 130 and 141

[2] For an insight into the News of the World culture, the Tribunal provides reference to the way the company responded to the claimant’s mental illness.  On this issue see paragraphs 198.1-198.4. Suffice to say the Tribunal did not find they were either sympathetic or understanding. In particular, even after the claimant’s claims were proven true which was the basis for the second disciplinary warning, they refused to accept it. (198.2)


[3] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/02/news-of-the-world-legal-chief-ordered-surveillance-on-rival-lawyers

[4] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/media/murdochs-scandal/what-its-like-to-get-monstered-by-a-murdoch-tabloid/

[5] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/08/ailes-used-fox-budget-to-finance-campaigns-against-enemies.html

[6]  http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/media/2012/03/5557167/monstering-when-murdoch-tabloid-publishes-pictures-you-your-underwear-

[7] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/how-roger-ailes-built-the-fox-news-fear-factory-20110525

Posted in bureaucracy, change managment, compliance, coruption, culture, leadership, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If the future of work is automation, what is the future of management?

English: Jim Tracy, the manager of the Colorad...

English: Jim Tracy, the manager of the Colorado Rockies baseball team. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been wrestling with this question for a few months. I have been interested in the way automation is changing work and what it means for the future of work. Some of my essays over the past years have looked at the manager and their role. What seems to return is the need for managers as someone to translate the vision from the top to work packages for the staff who deliver the work. The manager also resolves the issues from the from the staff so that the top of the organisation can understand whether its vision is working as intended and what changes if any need to be made.

On the surface, that seems a sound approach where managers will always be needed. They are the “jam in the sandwich”. Will automation make their fate a sticky one? Will the demand for automation redefine what a manager does and what it means to manage? In many ways, I foresee a time when the manager becomes more of a supervisor or coach instead of managing since the decisions they might have made are taken out of the work process by automation and algorithms. I would not suggest that automation and algorithms replace managers, although it will replace those workers who have been labelled managers when their work is really open for automation.

How does automation augment managers?

Instead, I want to look at how automation augments the manager and management. The questions arose after I read this blog post[1] based on this paper.[2] For paper, the author (a PhD student) was embedded in a large grocery distribution centre. In the centre, computers directed employees in their work.

The author wanted to study the following question.

As computers become better at “thinking,” or using algorithms to make decisions — a phenomena which, once networked with systems of memory, is not all that different from human cognition — more and more types of work have the potential to become “computer controlled.” What can that mean for the human beings controlled by computers?

The company used performance data to create incentives. The incentives, like a game, would mask the work’s repetitive, isolating, and physically taxing nature. The worker had to exceed the expected, not minimum, standard to get the reward. The rewards led to a performance league table where staff were ranked on their “running ability”. This was their ability to fulfil orders and exceed the performance targets. The incentives and league table gave the work meaning. In creating incentives and the performance table, management created a virtual social space. In the virtual space, work gained meaning aided by the incentives.[3]

The social meaning workers crave is also what managers need

The essay and paper have insights that can be applied to managers. The case study focused on a large warehouse where there are repetitive tasks, yet, the same logic can apply managers. The need to create incentives and meaning is found at all levels of an organisation. What is different, though, is the way that the work is directed by computers. Even though the digital effects are not new since we have had computer aided design and manufacturing for decades.[4] What is new, though, is how the digital revolution, as exemplified by the paper, will influence managers. Managers will have to adapt to algorithms that advise or direct their work. Moreover, their work will be increasingly modified so that it can be replaced or augmented to fit the digital framework.[5] Manager, in effect, will have to react to computer control in digital arenas that are created for them.

Is the future of management to design work to keep workers engaged?

The future is not a simulated work experience. Work will be more than a virtual computer directed exercise.[6] Instead, what was traditionally understood as management will be reshaped to fit digital control. The computer enhanced manager is what will deliver economies of scales and competitive advantage. However, this is not simply a knowledge worker. What we will see are managers who find their decisions supplemented by algorithms. At the same time, some work will be replaced such as those that are amenable to routine optimisation.[7] Even if we want to reclassify managers, and others, as knowledge that only begs the question. We need to consider two levels to this issue.

Can managers be reduced to an algorithm’s decision tree?

At the first level, the question is how far can work or management be reduced to an algorithmic function. To the extent that it can be reduced, managers may become more of supervisors as fewer problems need to be solved. What exists are problems like office conflict that cannot be solved by an algorithm. If supervisors solve issues like what is this week’s rota and managers solve problems, what is the work priority for highest effectiveness, then computer aided work requires less managers.[8] The term manager will be hollowed out as a descriptive title. As work becomes computer directed, then a manager will be the one who understands, creates, and manage the virtual social spaces that provide meaning for the employees. The follow up question, though, is “Who will provide meaning for the managers?”[9] The problem is not one of infinite regression. The challenge is to find the point at which management re-emerges. Where does the relative autonomy of a knowledge worker begin in a computer aided organisation?

Who will create engagement and meaning for managers?

A manager is not defined by the skills that computers can replace. The goal is to find an advantage from faster decision loops.[10] With the rise of sensors and the Internet of Things, a manager will face increased real time data and ubiquitous performance monitoring and reporting.[11] However, that is not the role of a manager simply for that can be done through a heuristic system. The question is whether a manager is needed. Other commentators have suggested that managers will retain a comparative advantage. The manager, so the argument goes, will provide a unique role in the following areas.

  • Asking questions,
  • Considering exceptions
  • Accepting ambiguity
  • Soft skills.

These areas show that managers provide a personalized service. They are face of the organisation or process, where nuance, emotional intelligence, and personality are prized. The manager translates the organisation’s vision into practice. In a sense, managers will become more human and less robotic as machines and algorithms take care of the pure decisions where algorithm or machine learning is superior. The manager will give the staff the social context, the virtual social space that gives the work meaning and incentives.[12] All of this is true and remains a constant. What is missing is who provides the engagement and social context for managers?

The computer enhanced manager will find they create their own meaning.

When we consider this question, we move to the second level at which the computer enhanced manager will emerge. We can understand that a computer cannot explain a vision. Even though a computer can guide workers to be more efficient, it cannot explain a vision. In this role, the computer enhanced manager will create their own meaning. They are not exempt from the need for someone to create their social context, instead it is that they will be in a position to shape their narrative or their work’s meaning. Even if one argues that managers will not face the repetitive tasks, automation will change what they have to do and how they do it. However, the change is less a difference of degree, manage with a digital accent, than of kind, what managers do will be different. The managers of the past will be more coaches so that fewer managers exist with more employees either supervisors or coaches who work with employees to develop their skills, techniques and productivity. The difference in degree is that the organisation is changing and that change is what will help us understand the future of the manager.[13] As Drucker explained, a manager is understood by being effective within an organisation is getting the right things done. The manager will be required to identify the right things to be done for the staff. Even though repetitive tasks are already identified as the right tasks, it will be the manager who identifies the task to be made repetitive and why. The difference is that the computer aided worker is more efficient. The question is whether the computer aided manager is more effective?

As I mentioned above, the organisation is changing. The change is how Knowledge Management (KM) and Organisational Learning (OL) interact with automaton. If KM and OL are what help the organisation to be more effective by making the manager more effective, then we need to know whether automation can improve KM and OL. Automated KM and OL could create the computer enhanced manager. The difference is that automation, understood as computer aided workers, is what makes a worker more efficient, can it make a manager more effective by automating KM and OL? As George Grant argued eloquently, the computer does not impose on its user the way it works, which leads us to ask whether the way the user applies the computer to work affects the work.

What will automation do for knowledge management and organisational learning?

The computer enhanced manager will rely on KM and OL systems to be effective. The computer will help them find information, explore alternatives, and test possible hypothesis about what is to be done and how best to act. In this role, the manager will find automation makes it easier to share and find knowledge across networks within and outside the organisation. In that way, automation will change the way the manager works. Imagine a manager who could extract information, data, and knowledge from the organisation as quickly and readily as they can through various search engines. We may find that we are moving in beyond the information-organisation. We appear on the cusp of a knowledge organisation where algorithmic learning systems will create the automated or knowledge organisation.

All business philosophies reflect a political philosophy, what does automation reflect?

The challenge is less about what will happen to the frontline worker, as those effects are already upon us, and only a little more about the manager’s future which is what is being revealed. Instead, what has to been addressed is the future of the organisation. It is this change, this disruption, that will define the future of work. At one extreme, the individual will become their own organisation, their own company, enhanced by the various OL and KM systems that make them productive. At the other extreme, the organisation is simply a platform that workers interact with as and when their skills or insights are needed by the individual and the organisation.

The question is how managers and management will navigate these extremes. Can a path be found between them?

[1] http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2016/04/27/how-workers-interact-with-computers-in-an-automated-workspace/?utm_content=buffer55dab&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[2] http://wes.sagepub.com/content/30/1/135.abstract

[3] What gives work meaning and what gives life meaning in the age of automation will be the defining question for its success. See in particular the conclusion to this article. http://news.mit.edu/2016/event-automation-steal-identity-0408

[4] Consider this article in 1962 that explored the issue. Automation and the Management Process by Thomas L. Whisler and George P. Shultz The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 340, Automation (Mar., 1962), pp. 81-89

Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. in association with the American Academy of Political and Social Science

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1033702 http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/1033702.pdf?_=1469888731004

[5] https://hbr.org/2015/04/heres-how-managers-can-be-replaced-by-software In this article the authors describe a software programme called iCEO that automates complex work by subdividing into smaller tasks. Even though the article conflates management with project management, the insights are useful. The question then becomes what work cannot be reduced to this level? If some cannot, what is it that makes them immune? The deeper question is whether technology has forced us to think technologically by looking at the world through a lens where everything is broken down into tasks that can be managed by a computer.

[6] Some commentators have suggested that the future of work will be about avoiding boredom. If the work is rendered into repetitive tasks working along pre-set pathways without variation or creativity, then yes it will be boring. See Sloan http://mitsloan.mit.edu/newsroom/articles/in-uncharted-automated-future-will-we-have-jobs-and-will-they-be-boring/  http://news.mit.edu/2016/event-automation-steal-identity-0408 and

[7] http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/employment-and-growth/automation-jobs-and-the-future-of-work misses the point and does not consider how managers will be affected.

[8] http://smallbusiness.chron.com/difference-between-managerial-supervisory-experience-36823.html

[9] http://searchcio.techtarget.com/video/One-danger-of-automated-systems-Employees-get-bored Although this article focuses on the frontline worker, it also applies to managers. Unless we assume that a manager’s tasks are non-routine and ones with intrinsic meaning.

[10] http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/leadership/manager-and-machine

[11] http://www.information-age.com/technology/information-management/123459665/3-trends-will-impact-information-management-systems See also the issue of big data swamping management with increased amounts of performance data. http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/if-you-think-big-datas-challenges-are-tough-now/?utm_content=bufferdc5c0&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[12] http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/05/01/know-when-to-manage-and-when-to-coach/#4f1bb7387d04

[13] http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/technology-and-the-end-of-management/ Lynda Gratton indicates the way management is changing because managers have to work differently. They have to adapt to the new ways of working. Even though her focus is the manager, the unstated issue is that the organisation has changed in response.

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Answering Drucker’s Questions for an information Organisation

When organisations want to buy an Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS), they often believe it will solve their records management problems. They find they have lots of paper. They have lots of electronic documents. They have shared drives that are full and disorganised. The EDRMS is often touted as the magic bullet, it will solve these problems. However, if we read Peter Drucker, they are solving the wrong problems because they have not asked the right questions.

Peter Drucker suggested some questions in his seminal article The Coming of the New Organisation. (https://hbr.org/1988/01/the-coming-of-the-new-organization) The new organisation would be based on information. He wrote this in 1988 before the web, digital platforms, or social media, yet had an insight into how organisations worked. More to the point, he understood how computers would influence those organisations.

First, it would allow what people did manually to do it faster.

Second, the data processing would change the structure of an organisation. This was a major insight since it signalled the radical changes in organisations that we are now experiencing.

Third, work will be done differently with sequencing of work being replaced by synchrony of work.

The second point is what I want to consider as it relates to the EDRMS decision. Usually an EDRMS comes with a desire to have “New Ways of Working” (™ © ® etc. etc. ad nauseam (no one ever introduces old ways of working.🙂 ). The NeWoW reveals, or threatens to reveal, that, as Drucker noted; many layers of management only exist to relay information across the organisation. They serve as signal boosters to pass faint signals from the top to the bottom or farthest reaches and from the farthest reaches to the top of the organisation. However, to make the NeWoW, a success, at least in terms of the EDRMS, the organisation has to know how it works. Here is where most change programmes fail since people rarely ask the questions posed. Or at least, it does not appear these questions are asked. Usually, consultants will come and discuss Business Process Re-engineering. This is useful, except it only address the first point. It helps the organisation do what it does manually, faster with the new digital system.

What I am not aware of, but perhaps a reader is, of an organisation that has asked itself Drucker’s questions.

  1. What information do senior managers need to do their jobs? (We assume we know that, but we have never asked it or analysed the results)
  2. Where does this information come from? (Here we start to see the myriad of flows, relays, and dead ends that emerge.)
  3. What form is it in? (Is it an email, verbal (formal or informal meetings), written report? Is it anecdotes, polished analysis, a written report?)
  4. How did it flow? (What flows upwards? What flows horizontally? At what level? What flows downward? How do managers get information and from whom? Is it a formal flow or an informal one?)
  5. How much of that data is for control and how much is for information? (I would say 80/20 very little information is circulated for information that staff can use, it is mainly delivered for control)

As Drucker says, information is data endowed with relevance and purpose. However, to convert data into information requires knowledge. Yet, knowledge is specialized. Here the command and control system emerges in its fullest culture especially if the belief that information is power and so must not be shared.

When I first started working in UK local government 15 years ago, I was told an important secret.

“You only tell your direct reports 50% of what they need to know to do their jobs. Otherwise, they will take your job!”

The questions are likely to reveal that the people who convert data to information are senior managers and a few middle managers. The rest are passing information around as relays or collecting the data.

I would be interested to know if anyone has asked Drucker’s 5 questions to see whether you work for a command and control organisation or an information organisation. The answers may reveal the gap between the appearance and the reality.

I would be interested in your views on the questions and the answers.



Posted in bureaucracy, change managment, path dependency, records management, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Two Continents, Two Information Governance Conferences, One Conclusion

An excellent overview of transformation in records management and information management. If you are not thinking on these lines you are missing what is coming.


IRMS2016 Innovation Keynote 08Over the last few weeks I attended the AIIM Conference (the theme was Digital Transformation in Action) in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA and the IRMS Conference (the theme was Information Superheroes) in Brighton, UK. It was my third time at AIIM, at which I did one of the roundtables, and it was my first time at IRMS, at which I did the opening keynote (a genuine honour to have been selected). Both the AIIM roundtable and the IRMS keynote (slides available here) were innovation themed. This post is not going to be so much a recap of the conferences as much as it will be my take on how innovation, disruption, and transformation fit into the whole Information Governance / Management (IG/M) space, and how AIIM and IRMS and their members (individuals, sponsors, vendors) may be affected.

Since my session at both conferences was about innovation, that’s the filter…

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Threat to openness: managing access to public archives

Portrait of Henri Bergson by J.E. Blanche 1891...

Portrait of Henri Bergson by J.E. Blanche 1891 to illustrate Henri Bergson article. Uploaded from http://www.marcelproust.it/gallery/bergson.htm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In November 2015, I attended the Threats to Openness conference held at Northumbria University. The conference had a specific aim “discuss the growing threats to citizens’ rights to access public archives across the digital world.” Although we did not discuss what was meant by openness, it was understood mainly to be defined by the right of access or the right to access public archives. However, this provides only a limited sense of how openness was used during the conference. Participants and speakers regularly referred to difference between access and openness noting that they were often confused. One does not always imply the other. As openness can be understood differently, the threats to it will vary with responses that can potentially conflict with efforts to help with access. What was missing was a detailed discussion of the relationship between access to archives, openness and the nature of the society. A society may be relatively closed yet allow access to its archives and one might have an open archive with few records. The implicit theme was that informational openness presupposes an open society. Yet, without understanding how archives relate to an open society, we could not fully understand threats to openness as a threat to access or how threats to access to archives are a threat to openness. To do this, we need to explore what is meant by openness. To do this, I sketch some ideas about the open society.

The following remarks are based on what I heard at the conference. We need to understand the open society to understand openness and from there to understand the threats to it.

Part 1 What is openness? Some thoughts.

First, openness is usually associated with the idea of an open society– “a society characterized by a flexible structure, freedom of belief, and wide dissemination of information.”[1] The open society presupposes a regime based on openness. What constraints this view, though, is that openness and transparency are not the same. A government may want the public to believe that its transparency indicates openness. That a government will publish a large and varied amount of data and information is a sign transparency. The access to that information and its willingness to provide information as requested indicates openness. Transparency does not mean that there is greater access to information or greater openness by the government.

We can look beyond this view of openness to explore how it connects to the political system. Karl Popper popularized the idea of the open society. He argued that an open society was one in which the government is responsive and tolerant with political mechanisms that are transparent and flexible. For Popper, the open society exists in contradistinction to the “closed” society. The closed society is based on traditional or tribal systems that are intolerant of challenges to its authority. One way to limit challenges to authority is to limit the information that is available. However, Popper’s views are a crude version of what Henri Bergson proposed in his work The Two Sources of Morality and Religion where he developed the idea of an open society. Bergson proposed that the Open Society was an idea that was temporal, as it has yet to be realized, and global in that it would include everyone so that we are all living in a potential open society. In other words, it is an ideal that is present in a nascent form still to be realized. By contrast, the closed society was one that the excluded some individuals even as included others so they were closed to part of humanity. The truly open society would be one that is global in scope.

When we consider openness at this global level we start to see how various threats to openness might emerge. We can see, especially through Bergson’s work that the UK society[2] is closed in many respect. As a monarchy, the archives as litmus test for that openness as they raise the question of arcana imperii, the secret information a regime uses to rule. Like all societies, the UK will have legitimate reasons to limit access to keep information secret or private. They indicate the border within which threats to openness emerge for it is the point at which society, or the rulers, have agreed that openness cannot pass. Even as there are attempts to encourage open information in a general sense, all societies will limit access to information and specifically the archives. Thus, we may have to accept that openness, in terms of information, only means; a specific domain, specific information, or a general idea. Even if it is an extensive domain such as the “public domain”, it may not cover all of society. In other words, the limits on information may indicate the extent to which it is a closed society.

A further question is whether those closed off areas are a threat to openness simply by being closed and thus inaccessible. Such a question, though, presupposes that we know who cannot access the information. If a government minister can access the information, is it closed? If junior civil servants have access, is it closed? Do we have to accept as our standard that if the public cannot get access, then it is considered closed? However, that assumes that the public are the standard by which we measure access and openness. If the public do not rule, as they do not in the UK or in other countries, why do we assume that access is to be measured by what the public can access? Moreover, is a public record what the government decides as people may donate or bequeath papers, documents, and records to record office. Does closed mean that they are inaccessible to the public gaze, neither we nor our representatives can see it (such as state secrets) or that they are not readily accessible, that is they are exempt from disclosure even though they are covered by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)? Or are they do not even constitute a public record, such as Royal Archives or private archives so are completely outside the “public” gaze?

In an extreme case, as mentioned earlier the archives can be an extension of, or even coterminous with, the arcana imperii[3]. As the rulers rely on this information to rule, openness threatens their rule or their legitimacy. However, the arcana imperii is not limited to imperial governments or government simply. It is applicable to any intellectual discipline where information provides power or status.[4] Where discoveries can provide competitive advantages for the organisation that has sponsored the research, openness can be a threat as the material is what provides the knowledge which creates an advantage.[5]

By their nature archives are closed off in that they are bounded space for a specific purpose to protect or preserve records even as they make them available for future generations. In this regard, some records are closed by statute and others by request. Within that process, a further threat to openness can be found in the system for cataloguing the records. The catalogue can become a barrier to access as the public have to know the “language” to access the material as well as understand the process to access. However, these are structural barriers, which while problematic do not threaten openness generally even though they may be a particular challenge. The structural barriers can be overcome by the archivists or the user. By contrast, a statute or a legal barrier, imposed externally, cannot be overcome by the user or the archivist without penalty. In this, the structural constraints are not designed to reduce openness or access; they are designed to control it. But what are the other threats? We need to consider these at three levels.


The archival level is where threats to funding become a threat to limit access to archives or a powerful patron seeks to limit access. At this level, there are threats to an organisation hosting the archives where it may close the archives. Other threats might be the technical limits where records, stored as data, become inaccessible and therefore closed. Further, the technical limits can also limit access so that even if the archives are digitized, their access can be controlled more easily and more extensively even to the point of excluding the archivist. By contrast, physical documents, which while closed to the public still exist in a tangible place accessible to the archivist. To put it directly, you cannot encrypt paper.


At a societal level, threats can occur when people no longer value or understand archives. The archive’s role in society may be misunderstood or overlooked. As a result, the lack of interest or understanding can generate threats to funding or access as society allows the archives to be closed. Moreover, the government may wish to close the archives as a way to ensure their arcana imperii remains protected to maintain their dominance within the political system.


The global level the threats can develop from an international or global resistance to openness. We can see this develop because of cultural reasons or for security reasons. In particular, in the West the fear how information will be used means that it is closed to those who might “abuse it”.[6] We note that scientists close their research to tobacco firms and scientists will sometimes close their research to rivals. Alternatively, the government or research sponsor may classify information to limit access. In some cases, the fear may lead to archives being closed to foreigners or to the public. Yet, these only relate to the archives themselves. We need to consider the other part of the issue the citizen’s right of access.

Part 2

threats to citizens’ rights to access public records

We can read the sentence narrowly to consider possible threats to a citizen’s rights. The focus is mainly, but not exclusively, on political threats where governments want to limit, or community, want to limit rights of access or society no longer supports or is informed enough to challenge the government’s proposal on access. Further, the threat may come from the society being unaware of or unconcerned with the government’s failure to ensure citizens’ rights of access. However, these were not the main concern as the focus was on the political and technical threats to access.

Are there political reasons why access is to be limited?

There may be political reasons for closing or limiting access as a regime is not required to have archives or to allow access even if it has archives. The question here is whether there is a right to access in itself or is access part of the nature of being a citizen especially in an open society? In the former, it is that if you have archives there is a right of access. Thus, if no archives exist you cannot have a right of access and even if there is an archive a right of access is not to be inferred. In the latter, it is that as a citizen, especially in an open society, you are expected to have right of access even if archives don’t exist. In that sense, an open society infers that archives will exist and are accessible. The premise is that free access to information is the basis for an open society, which extends to archives. Yet this brings us to the challenge mentioned earlier that the government may wish to make information open or accessible on its terms and not in response to what the public request. In other words, the government wants to be transparent but not open in the sense that it can be forced to given an account by providing access. The issue of “push” (government transparency) versus “pull” (citizen’s right of access) for the citizen rests on the understanding of whether accessible information is the same as open information. Further, information that is accessible may not be open as only a few people may have access it. The approval process can limit access beyond who can physically attend the location to access the information. When we discuss this issue, we are working from the assumption that the information is in an accessible format when someone exercises their right to access it.


As mentioned earlier under the archival threat to openness, a powerful patron or a politically powerful person may seek to limit what the archives contain. They may wish to hollow out the archives to avoid being accountable to history or anyone else. They will ensure documents are well vetted before they get to the archives, if they get to the archives. Once at the archives, they may put the archivists under pressure to accept limits on access. Alternatively, the powerful patron or political figure may encourage individual departments or agencies to limit their access to information or cleanse their records before it arrives at the archives. Although the conference did not explore this idea, the right of access can be threatened by political activity in which records “disappear” and people find that the historical record is sanitized so as to avoid embarrassment at a minimum or hide outright criminality at a maximum.

The deeper threat is that archivists become co-opted by the political process. The archives have to survive in a political system so they will accept such behaviour to protect the archives. The implicit fear is that if they insist too strongly on robust archival retention, their political masters will limit what they receive or limit their funding to operate. As it is their political masters, the government, an archivist has no higher authority to which they can appeal assuming they can make the higher authority see a concern with the issue. Would a national archivist in the UK really be able to face down a Minister who chose to limit what they would provide the National Archives? They may never face an obvious crisis like the Nordlinger Affair which is crude attempt to exert direct political control.[7] Instead, they will have the indirect request to allow greater oversight of the disclosure process or the request to improve the vetting process. All of this will appear to the archivist as a positive step even as it is attempt to encourage even greater political control over the archives by limiting what may be accessible in the future that might hold the government or the politically powerful person to account.

Does technology create a limit to a citizen’s right of access?

We have to consider whether the digital domain changes the nature of the right to access. There is a danger we can believe a right has been expanded through the appearance of openness created through greater access promised by the digital domain. According to this logic, a document can be accessed from anywhere in the world through the web, which makes access global. Yet, that same access can be limited more easily either through controlling the digital access or by keeping the records out of the digital domain. As the closure is less noticeable in that suspending digital access is not as prominent as physically closing a building, it becomes problematic to assume that digital intrinsically creates more openness. Moreover, one can target the closure to people from specific addresses or from certain domains where various login pages can limit access and access can be further limited to what can be searched electronically. By comparison coming into the archives one can have physical access to different documents and is only limited by what the available index allows. Further one has to explain the refusal in person when the digital domain does not require such a personal transaction, which can be open to negotiation or influence. A related problem is that the digital access may not work. In this case, the material that is held digitally is in a format that cannot be accessed. Here the problem is future compatibility. An electronic record from 1990 on a legacy system may not be accessible on a 2015 system. Thus, the technology may constrain the right of access. The technological obsolescence may limit or remove the right of access. Even though someone physically accesses the record, they cannot access the information that it contains.

What if openness is a threat? Can that explain why there are threats to access?

Another way to look at the threat to citizens’ rights of access is to consider how openness is considered a threat. By reversing the question, we can explore why individuals, organisations, societies, and governments would want to limit that openness.

The first point to note is that governments, societies, and individuals have legitimate reasons for keeping things inaccessible to the public or to citizens. Usually, these are state secrets or private information so they will not want to encourage access to these types of records. However, we have to be careful not to confuse the desire to preserve state secrets or personal information with a resistance to openness. The United States and the United Kingdom are open with a large amount of their data, information, and records. Even as they seek to preserve secrets, they also work to ensure openness, which is often manipulated so that critics will say that resistance to disclosing state secrets is considered a threat to openness. The problem is that one is a passive resistance, no access to state secrets, the other is active resistance your right to access is limited. In the UK, for example, the right of access to national security documents still exists as the FOIA can be used, yet it is limited by an absolute exemption.

The second point to note is that openness can be considered a threat to the extent that it would undermine legitimacy of the state, society, or the individual.[8] The openness here is considered corrosive of what provides legitimacy. If someone’s birth records show them to be illegitimate and thus not entitled to what they have claimed, they will want to resist openness. A government may do this when it fears that disclosure will undermine its ability to operate effectively. We can see this most clearly in the FOIA exemption under s.36 (harm to the effective public policy) the right of access is not in question, yet, but what is in used is that disclosure would hinder the government’s ability to operate. It would be tainted by publicity so the information takes on the veneer of arcana imperii

Finally, we have to consider that openness is a threat to those who rely on hidden information, the arcana imperii, that allow them to have an advantage. Here the issue is not so much that knowledge is power it is that limiting access to knowledge is what creates power. One can see this indirectly in the way that websites can limit access, which give them an advantage, which also limits rivals to their position. At a larger level we can see this in the way that certain regimes rely more on arcana imperii as they are not founded on principles that would benefit from openness. The idea here is that openness implies an equality, an equality of access in that it is a right, and therefore challenges the intrinsic inequality of the arcana imperii. Although all these points are made tentatively, since they were not addressed at the conference, they do suggest a possible area to investigate especially if we connect openness and threats to openness to the idea of the public domain whereby we assume that the public domain is open.

[1] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/open-society

[2] All societies are closed to some extent which means that Bergson’s ideal is aspirational or theoretical except in the potential of a world state of enlightened citizens.

[3] ARCANUS IN TACITUS Author(s): Herbert W. Benario Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, Neue Folge, 106. Bd., 4. H. (1963), pp. 356-362 J.D. Sauerländers Verlag Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41244204 Accessed: 06-04-2015 23:51 UTC

In its other sense, arcanus indicates that which, regardless of chance, must be kept from knowledge, things tacenda or celanda. Whatever the reason, promulgation of these secrets would be disastrous, whether the important area be political or religious.

P360 “Here we have one of the keys to power, the ability – and the need – to conceal what is necessary from the general eye. And the verb vulgärentur is instructive; we have met it twice before. The value of arcana is exclusively political here; what is referred to must be tacenda.

Tacenda means Tacenda are things not to be mentioned or made public—things better left unsaid; tacit means “unspoken, silent” or “implied, inferred.” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/tacenda (accessed 7 April 2015)

[4] The arcana imperii can also describe secrets of nature. If man can unlock those secrets, it is believed he can control nature in the way that man controls man when he knows their secrets or possess secret information that they cannot know.

[5] “Thus the study of arcana imperii stressed not only the empirical collection of knowledge as the basis of politics, but the clever management of that knowledge.” Mining Tacitus: secrets of empire, nature and art in the reason of state Vera KellerThe British Journal for the History of Science / Volume 45 / Special Issue 02 / June 2012, pp 189 – 212 DOI: 10.1017/S0007087412000076, Published online: 20 March 2012

Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0007087412000076 p191

[6] The Congressional Record Service (CRS) used to publish its reports on the internet. However, Congress after 11 September attacks, ordered that they are no longer published on the internet. Even though other organisations such as Federation of Atomic Scientists (FAS) publish them on their own initiative, Congress’s decision has reduced access.

[7] http://www.mybestdocs.com/hurley-c-lucas-keynote0703.htm

[8] The example of Athens vs Socrates is such an example as the city could not tolerate openness beyond a point where its identity or legitimacy was in question.

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