Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

Who to trust and who to fear.

IF you found out about ma­jor cor­po­rate or govern­ment mis­con­duct, what would you do? Blow­ing the whis­tle is the only moral op­tion.

A whistleblower is a per­son who tells the pub­lic or some­one in au­thor­ity about al­leged dis­hon­est or il­le­gal mis­con­duct oc­cur­ring in a govern­ment depart­ment, a pub­lic or pri­vate or­gan­i­sa­tion or a com­pany.

The al­leged mis­con­duct may be a vi­o­la­tion of a law, rule, reg­u­la­tion or a di­rect threat to pub­lic in­ter­est, such as fraud, health/ safety vi­o­la­tions and cor­rup­tion.

Whistle­blow­ers may make their al­le­ga­tions in­ter­nally to other peo­ple within the ac­cused or­gan­i­sa­tion or ex­ter­nally to reg­u­la­tors, law en­force­ment agen­cies, to the me­dia or to groups con­cerned with the is­sues.

Whistle­blow­ers are com­monly seen as self­less mar­tyrs for pub­lic in­ter­est and or­gan­i­sa­tional ac­count­abil­ity; oth­ers view them as tell­tales or snitches, solely pur­su­ing per­sonal glory and fame. In any case, it’s a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion to be in. As Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange’s predica­ment il­lus­trates, whistle­blow­ers are not al­ways seen as he­roes. Now, with global in­ter­est in pub­lish­ing leaked doc­u­ments of mis­con­duct, As­sange ( pic­tured) has warned whistle­blow­ers to steer clear of ri­val whistle­blow­ing sites set up by main­stream me­dia out­lets, say­ing that al­most no web­site other than his own can be trusted.

The Aus­tralian free­dom of in­for­ma­tion ac­tivist said peo­ple con­sid­er­ing leak­ing sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion could not trust confidential sites such as a new one cre­ated by the Wall Street Jour­nal.

He said Wik­iLeaks was one of just a few sites that could be guar­an­teed to pro­tect its sources.

‘‘ You have to look at the peo­ple who are run­ning the or­gan­i­sa­tion; what is their his­tory and their ex­pe­ri­ence?’’ As­sange asked at a Lon­don cer­e­mony award­ing him a gold medal from the Syd­ney Peace In­sti­tute.

‘‘ Have they stood up to pres­sure be­fore and have they man­aged them­selves well be­fore?

‘‘ There are al­most no or­gan­i­sa­tions other than us that have that track record.’’

Whether or not you con­sider As­sange to be a whistleblower with the pub­lic in­ter­est in mind, quite dif­fer­ently to the News of the World jour­nal­ists with their phone-hack­ing de­ba­cle, the Wik­iLeaks founder sees skewed per­spec­tive in cov­er­age.

‘‘ When or­gan­i­sa­tions like The Guardian write more than 100 ar­ti­cles on the News of the World be­ing in­volved in putting in de­fault pass­words into voice mail­boxes – be­cause that is what we are ac­tu­ally talk­ing about here – they are tak­ing space from other things and they also have other agen­das at work,’’ he said.

‘‘ The other agen­das at work are at­tack­ing news­pa­per ri­vals in the same mar­ket, it is their big­gest ri­val in the same mar­ket; it should be ob­vi­ous to ev­ery­one.’’

Per­haps the most truth­ful cov­er­age of leaked doc­u­ments is in the doc­u­ments them­selves.

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