Pssst. Wanna know a secret about the 2002 Winter Games? Well, don't expect anyone from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to tell you.
New rules distributed to organizing committee employees Friday warn against the release of "nonpublic information," even to family members, and require all media inquiries to be referred to designated personnel.Those rules, part of a seven-page "Standards and Practices" document that all employees must agree to abide by in writing, come only a week after the need to plug leaks to the media came up at a SLOC board of trustees meeting.
Trustees asked at that meeting for a change in their bylaws to be drafted so any one of them caught releasing information about the 2002 Winter Games considered confidential could be dismissed.
Why so much concern? In January, several weeks before the event, the Deseret News reported details of the organizing committee's five-minute presentation during the closing ceremonies of the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
SLOC officials traced the disclosure to the board, saying it violated contracts with Nagano organizers and the International Olympic Committee, although no action was taken.
Now they've vowed to make sure both trustees and employees stay silent when it comes to information deemed confidential. Just what's considered confidential is defined in SLOC's Code of Ethics. (See box.)
"It's almost like we're going to hire Perry Mason and Magnum, P.I.," said Ken Bullock, who represents the Utah League of Cities and Towns on the organizing committee's board of trustees.
Bullock said the effort now being made to maintain secrecy makes it more difficult for the public to have any say over how the Olympics are being organized.
"From a perspective of SLOC, it reinforces how closed we are," Bullock said. "If people don't know what decisions you're making, you're limiting the number of people who have input."
The need for more public participation in organizing the 2002 Winter Games was cited by community and legislative leaders who backed Bullock for a position on the SLOC board's elite executive committee.
Bullock got the spot - at the same meeting where confidentiality came up - but not before being accused of being disloyal because he sought support from outside the board.
That accusation came from Anita DeFrantz, an IOC vice president from the United States. DeFrantz told the Deseret News, in a recent interview, that board members represent the public and should be left alone.
"You can't have a lot of discussion in public. It's not the same as running the state. It's an event," she said, suggesting that letting the public know what issues are being considered before decisions are made leads to confusion.
"My goal is to make sure the public has the correct information," DeFrantz said. "I don't know how you can have the correct information until a decision has been made."
But Joseph Massey, head of the public relations program at Utah State University, said organizations run into trouble when the public discovers their attempt to keep their operations secret.
That can lead to the public suspecting a cover-up, Massey said. "Anytime the public becomes suspicious of an organization, the organization's credibility is at stake."
And if the public doesn't think an organization is "trustworthy, honest and credible," it won't be successful, according to Massey, who has extensive experience consulting in public relations and organizational communication.
"The press is doing its job when it tries to get as much relevant information to the public as possible," said Fred Brown, national Society of Professional Journalists president.
Brown, the political editor of the Denver Post, suggested the organizing committee's effort to control what's released to the public is likely to backfire.
"Leaks occur when the free flow of information is bottled up. So my advice to the Olympic organizing committee would be that the best way to reduce leaks is to be more open with information," he said.
Tight controls on information are "a very bad public relations move . . . It's just not a good idea for anyone to try to be that secretive because it gives the impression they have something to hide."
SLOC Chairman Bob Garff said nobody's trying to hide anything. Rather, organizers are protecting their business interests because they're raising more than $1 billion, mostly from private sources, to pay for the Games.
"We're not talking gag orders," Garff said.
The new code of conduct for employees is "nothing more than happens in private enterprise," he said, calling the organizing committee "quasi-public-private."
SLOC is a private, nonprofit operation but is run by a board of trustees that includes the governor and the mayor of Salt Lake City, along with business, community and Olympic leaders.
Garff said there needs to be a better understanding of what that means. "That's what SLOC is groping with - just how and what we are going to be," he said. "We need to be careful and we need to have debate."
SLOC outlines confidentiality
How the Salt Lake Organizing Committee defines confidential information:
"Confidential information means information regarding the corporation's activities that is not available to the public and that, if disclosed to a person other than a board member, officer or employee, would likely provide such person with an advantage over the corporation or others in any transaction with the corporation or could otherwise be used to the detriment of the corporation."
Source: SLOC Code of Ethics covering board members, officers and employees