Historical evolution of community right to know: Implications on the development and practice of public relations
The right-to-know approach to public policy – also known as regulation through revelation – is based on the ideas of self-governance and public participation in the decision-making process and was finally made into a federal law in the United States by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act (EPCRA) of 1986. EPCRA, which has served as a model for more than 80 countries since, was the first federal law in the United States to fully embrace the right-to-know approach to public policy. The purpose of this research is to explore the historical development and importance of the ideological concept of right to know in EPCRA as an example of the “legislation for revelation” approach to public policy. This study traces briefly the origins of the ideological concept of the public’s right to know in the writings of Thomas Paine, George Mason, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson as a fundamental part of the new republican system of 1787. This paper then investigates the historical development of the right-to-know concept in EPCRA, starting in the American Revolution, passing through the Anti-toxic and Environmental Justice Movements from the second half of the 20th century, and ending with the effects of EPCRA in the late 20th century early 21st century, analytically observing how the legislation based on the right-to-know principle opened opportunities for the field of communication, especially public relations and environmental risk communication. A historiography approach, based on identifying primary sources, contextualizing, interpreting, and narrating both legal and academic literature, is important to the study of public relations because the enforcement and success of the right-to-know policies depend almost solely in the ability of the public to receive, understand, process, use, and distribute information. As the community-right-to-know idea at the core of EPCRA created communication opportunities for different groups in society, this paper also provides a critical discussion on how these opportunities came to be and what they mean for the practice and research of public relations. Overall, while the fundamental concepts of community right to know mirror public relations guidelines and ethical codes of conduct, the field falls short in the implementation of its basic philosophy and tenets.
Bernardo Motta and Michael J. Palenchar. "Historical evolution of community right to know: Implications on the development and practice of public relations" Centre for Public Communication Research (CPRC), The Media School, Bournemouth University. Poole, England. Jun. 2010.
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