Missing lines

Try to imagine a situation like the one described below, which some readers may find in some way alike recent and not so recent real life situations. Let us imagine some item of news becomes public. Let us pretend, for the sake of the plot, that it is a big – really big – private real estate project and the government has just approved it. It is, let’s say, in the middle of a natural area, one that people expected to be protected. In fact, time and again, the government had promised to protect nature and care for the environment. Some people were surprised by the decision, others not so much. Some went as far as equating it to a negation of earlier promises and commitments – or, at least, backtracking on what many people believed those assurances meant. Should comparable situations arise in real life, we would have a clear-cut case for a media enquiry. Indeed, no journalist would hesitate for a second that the issue needed to be clarified with those responsible, in the name of the public interest. Some obvious questions would come readily to mind. Why was the decision taken, what was its rationale? What were the general arguments in favour, and their balance relative to the main arguments against? Which criteria were used to assess the inevitable trade-offs such a kind of decision entails? How was the public interest defined and how was it served? Does the decision create a precedent – or was any precedent invoked? One could go on; the list of pertinent questions would run quite long. What would not occur, I suppose, to most or all of the journalists would be to ask: was the decision legal? We may like or dislike certain decisions; we may deem them wise or otherwise; we may doubt their rationale or criteria; we may question the applicable norms or some of their interpretations. What we don’t do, as a rule, is to worry about their legality. Of course, we presume the government complies with the laws; we assume that the decisions taken by the government are legal. Shouldn’t we? Anyhow, legality is a matter for the courts. Newspapers should be sources of information necessary for the public to make informed judgments. However, all too often the answer we hear is: it was all done according to the law! Period! Well, that was not the point! As the answers keep missing, suspicions are bound to keep mounting.