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Freedom of Information Act: A 'New Era of Openness'?
The UK's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) fully entered into force at midnight on 1st January 2005, and a month later it was hailed by the Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer as a 'new era of openness' between citizens and state. By the end of January, the government, civil service, and public authorities were under fire for either continuing to withhold information, or for being shoddy in meeting requests and under-prepared for the transition.
The Act received Royal Assent in the year 2000, and came into force in a series of stages thereafter; this was the 'publication scheme' phase, applied in steps to different types of authorities over a period of two years. The second and final phase began as of midnight on the morning of new year's day; this was the public's right to submit requests for specific documentation came into effect. It has resulted in thousands of requests being made, a significant proportion of which have been rejected.
Both the spirit as well as the letter of the Act are, at the time of writing, being called into question by those requesting information and being denied it. One newspaper (the Independent) reported that out of 70 requests they had made, 10 had been successful, almost half were turned down flat, and the remainder were still waiting for a reply at the time of publication. The paper also said that in two of the replies they had received, the government admitted that it had breached its own legislation by not meeting the deadline for responding to requests set down in the FOIA.
In addition, the Labour government has been accused of using the FOIA to muck-rake about the former Tory government. This is a particularly serious charge since the UK is in an campaign period with a General Election expected in May/June this year. This is the same Labour government that delayed the introduction of the FOIA by five years, when the legislation itself should really have been introduced many decades ago. It is quite simply a national disgrace that this Act took so long to be made law, which is a criticism of every government, regardless of political 'colour'.
So what can we learn about the prospects of the Freedom of Information Act from looking at its astrological chart, shown below?
Chart alculated for the date and time when the Act entered into force in its entirety, and set for London as the capital of the United Kingdom.
The UK's Freedom of Information Act came into force when Mercury returned to the same place it occupied when the UK came into being in 1801. In astrology this is called a 'Mercury return.' This is a powerfully affirmative indicator for the appropriateness of this moment, showing that it strongly resonates to flows of information within the country.
In this chart Libra is on the Ascendant, ruled by Venus in the 3rd house of information. Venus is sextile Jupiter, the planet of publishing and frankness, and Jupiter is in the 1st house - upfront and direct. Mercury, planet of information and communication, is also sextile Jupiter. So far so good. But both Mercury and Venus are also conjunct Pluto, the planet of power and invisibility. Things now start to look more complicated.
Jupiter on the Sun-Saturn midpoint suggests a government focus to publication. Of course this relates to the fact that the Act only applies to public authorities. But you could also read it as a direct pointer to the influence of a powerful government presiding over what gets published. The fact that the Ascendant and houses match those of the UK's birth chart suggests a strengthening of the nation itself, as opposed to strengthening the rights of the citizens.
Cluster of planets: Sagittarius, 3rd house
Building on this picture, there is a cluster of planets in Sagittarius in the 3rd house. This sign and house are traditionally associated with publication and information respectively. Three inner planets - Mercury, Venus, and Mars - are in this area, along with the outermost known planet, Pluto. This tells us various things.
Firstly, the Mercury-Venus conjunction is socially oriented, concerned with transactions of information and with being approachable, accommodating and engaging. The fact that they're in Sagittarius means that there is a 'publishing' overtone to this, and with Sagittarius being traditionally known for honesty and candid behaviour, you could say that this is a good indicator for the success of the legislation. However there is another view of this, and that is that there is a touch of arrogance and 'slapdash' or 'winging it' to this combination, and an association with PR and propaganda techniques. Mercury-Venus can be caught up in trivia and superficiality, fooled by appearances without penetrating to anything deeper, and Sagittarius is similarly known for breadth and levity, not depth and profound engagement. It depends how optimistically or otherwise you wish to read the placements.
Secondly, Mars and Pluto here both suggest fierce battles to be fought in the arena of information and publication, above and beyond what would normally be expected of such a piece of law. Mars is where we are prepared to go to war, and this placement suggests two things: (i) the people are prepared to fight for access to information, which is just as well because (ii) the government are prepared to fight to withhold it. Thus, publication of information is turned into a theatre of war.
Pluto in the 3rd house
Pluto is an intriguing planet to find in the 3rd house of a chart for freedom of information. Placed here it is a planet of paradox in that it correlates with resisting scrutiny, erecting defences, and evading being seen clearly. In mythology, Pluto is 'the invisible one.' Yet the process of Pluto involves a (sometimes painful) peeling back of layers, revealing more and more, overcoming the fears that equate visibility with loss of power that prop up the aforementioned resistance.
What this planet in this sign and house shows is that the FOIA will, unfortunately, not be a straight-forward and simple piece of legislation by any means, compared to similar pieces of law in other countries. It suggests that the nation holds great resistance to it, yet also strongly craves it, and this ambivalence and struggle is now, regrettably, due to become part and parcel of the nation's experience of this law.
With Pluto on the Sun-Mars midpoint, there is an extra layer of embattlement to this set-up. This midpoint conjures up images of a government determined to retain the upper hand, creating an antagonistic and adversarial relationship through this legislation. There is a theme of 'win-lose' being applied to the Act, contradicting the front of co-operation and partnership that the establishment displayed in January as the law entered into force. [Note: Other aspects in the chart, and in the connections between this chart and that of the UK, reinforce this view, but for the sake of brevity they have been omitted from this section.]
If the FOIA had been launched on another date or at another time, this would not be the case, but the government gravitated to the timing that matched the situation. It stands to reason that citizens requesting information should not have to fight tooth and nail to have their request granted, nor should they they have to contend with trivial nonsense churned out by the government via publication schemes designed to distract attention by presenting the appearance of openness, but this chart is telling us that this is exactly what they will have to do.
Moon & the public
Lastly, the Moon in the chart for the FOIA is opposite Uranus, representing the citizenry (Moon) facing head-on (opposition) issues of freedom (Uranus) and public authority information (Uranus), striving (opposition) to become conscious (opposition) of truth (Uranus). The Moon is also in septile aspect to both Neptune and Pluto, and Neptune-Pluto are septile to each another, so there is a triple septile configuration involving Moon-Neptune-Pluto. This symbolically shows that deceiving and evading the public inspires this legislation. In terms of the cultural readiness of the UK population for this Act, this configuration suggests - speaking frankly - being asleep at the wheel, struggling to keep the eyes open. Clearly, this does not bode well for public engagement with the rights the people of the UK have just been granted from 'on high.' The combination of factors speaks of the public, seduced into unconsciousness, striving to awaken, to illuminate, to grasp truth and not be tempted to slip back into illusion and falsehood.
In summary, this astrological view of the FOIA is that the legislation has enough going for it to be effective, but only with great struggle, vigorous determination, and absolute dedication on the part of those who genuinely wish to have open and transparent government, and an honest relationship between the politicians and the citizenry. Despite the PR proclamations, it seems very unlikely indeed that a 'new era of openness' has arrived.
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