What is whistleblowing?
For journalists to hold society’s powerholders to account, reliable sources and evidence are crucial. That’s where whistleblowers come in, to play their essential part in the fostering accountability. Whistleblowers are individuals who expose abuses of power that betray the public trust through their unique access to evidence that proves illegal activity or misconduct. Once contact has been made between the whistleblower and the media, the evidence can be investigated by journalists and either the misconduct is exposed and ended, or a greater societal discussion is triggered once the public are informed.
Public interest whistleblowing is indispensable for strong and independent watchdog media. Without whistleblowers, numerous stories about corruption or fraud would never see the light of day.
However whistleblowing can involve significant personal and professional risks. And even though laws to protect whistleblowers have been enacted in many countries in recent years, there may be many reasons why someone might not want to openly report power abuse, for instance there are risks of the whistleblower:
- being identified
- receiving threats (to them and their loved ones)
- being charged (e.g. with espionage, treason)
- facing imprisonment
- being assaulted
- losing their job
- suffering from psychological distress
Working with Whistleblowers – a guide for journalists on what whistleblowers are and how to work with them
The Perugia Principles for Journalists – 12 principles for journalists to follow when working with whistleblowers in the Digital Age
How can whistleblowers expose power abuse?
Potential whistleblowers may leak the evidence to the press, so that journalists can investigate and eventually publish about the issue. The safest way for whistleblowers to leak information to the press is via the protected anonymity of leaks platforms.
The media has an important role in investigating the tip-offs received through the leaks platform, in order to expose cases of graft, misappropriation of funds and abuse of power.
The journalist that has received the leak can then proceed to verify the information, carry out further investigations, or publish the discoveries. For journalists and media outlets, whistleblowers are great potential sources of information for investigative pieces.
Implementing the new EU Whistleblower Directive – a guide to the directive, produced by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ). Information on how the Directive may affect journalists’ professions and how protections against retaliation apply to them and their sources.
Free Press Unlimited has helped set up four whistle-blowing platforms for the media. These digital platforms connect potential whistle-blowers directly with investigative journalists at media houses. The goal is to allow whistle-blowers and journalists to communicate free from censorship and interference, anonymously and safely. They are: