Whistleblowing is, by no means, a new resource for journalists. However, it is interesting in seeing how the roles and issues surrounding this relationship have developed in our digital landscape.
These roles and ethical issues were certainly thrust into the spotlight in recent times following the large scale investigation surrounding the Panama Papers.
Being the largest data leak in history with more than 11 million documents leaked, the leak was seen as a powerful showcase of successful collaborative journalism. As the data was obtained and eventually leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the project reached more than 400 journalists in 76 different countries with the findings released simultaneously following the large-scale investigation.
When journalists are faced with situations such as these, they are then subsequently faced with serious ethical considerations such as the protection of the whistleblowers and whether or not the information should be trusted, investigated and/or published.
These considerations are also exacerbated by the digital landscape as motivations and the overall roles of both the journalist and whistleblower have changed in the age of information as each party has entirely different considerations to protect their own agenda.
— Maria Paula Brito (@paulabritor) October 9, 2015
A journalist must of course do their best to verify and protect the information they receive from a whistleblower while they also must think about matters of public interest and privacy. Alternatively, whistleblowers must think of protecting themselves and their information and trusting the journalists they go to in this.
This protection of the information has grown more and more difficult as technology and digital communication has advanced so significantly. It has gotten harder for each party to hide their communication links and identities can very easily be tracked and identified, as a study by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) at London University reported that journalists find it increasingly difficult to safeguard their sources. Many within the industry are therefore calling for this issue to be addressed and shield laws altered to assist in this imperative part of investigative journalism.
While with the increased demand in information online, the leaked information can be lost to media bias, angles and commercialism which is of concern to the whistleblower and journalist alike if each are to act ethically. This has led to a growth in “vigilantism” and whistleblowers using digital methods such as WikiLeaks where information and data is presented in purest form without the ‘gatekeeping’ of a journalist. This illustrates how the roles of each party have changed yet it is obvious through the Panama Papers investigation that this relationship is not defunct, simply changing.
Image source: https://panamapapers.icij.org
- Human Sources: The Journalist and the Whistle-blower in the Digital Era
- Whistleblowers endangered in digital age, says lawyers’ report
- Source protection report and resources
- Whistleblowers & Journalists: a complex relationship
- Journalists, whistleblowers and Australias shield laws
- A Journalists Role in Whistleblowing in the 21st Century
- Panama Papers: Whistleblower breaks silence to explain why they leaked the 11.5m files