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WikiLeaks: What’s wrong with whistleblowing?

I’m guessing that you, like me, have been following the WikiLeaks story.   And if you’re like me, I feel that we’re asking the wrong questions.  Focused on the wrong end of things.

The fact is leaks happen.  They have happened since well before Watergate.  WikiLeaks changes the scale, but it doesn’t change reality.  There are people in organizations all over the world who are willing to risk their jobs, their personal freedom and maybe even their lives to let ‘us’ know what’s really going on in their organizations.  There’s something deeply wrong here.  And it has little to do with a website called WikiLeaks.

In 2008, WikiLeaks was awarded the Economist magazine New Media Award.  Today, there are calls to close down the website.  And cries of foul from the freedom of speech crowd. “There’s always been a divide between those who want the Internet to be open and free and those who view that as a risk, who want information to be protected and controlled,” said Jonathan Wood, global issues analyst at Control Risks. “This obviously highlights those divisions.”

In June 2009, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange won Amnesty International‘s UK Media Award (in the category “New Media”).  And, today the founder, spokesperson and editor in chief  Julian Assange is in hiding.  He’s reportedly had his life threatened, Interpol has put him on its red notice list of wanted persons and there is a Europe wide arrest warrant out on him on charges of sexual assault.

What changed?  In 2010, the WikiLeak’s focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and the US State department.  At the risk of sounding antiestablishment the leaks are getting closer to real political and economic power.  So, the reaction is not surprising.

But focusing on the website and the founder is distracting us from asking another perhaps more important questionHow bad is it in organizations that whistle blowers have to blow whistles at all?  And what do we need to do to change that?

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Deborah Hinton Monday, December 6th, 2010
Permalink Work, Workplace 3 Comments

3 Comments to WikiLeaks: What’s wrong with whistleblowing?

  • Deb, good questions well worth considering.I think the short answers are “Really bad” and “a starting point is to treat businesses as human activities, not as money making constructions.”

    There are a couple more questions to add I think. There are some gems among the secrets, but how much of this information truly had to be kept confidential and what does it say about our organisation when we choose to keep so much a secret?

    What does it say about the effectiveness, purpose and intent of that alleged pillar of democracy, the traditional media? Do we really need a fourth estate and should traditional media be allowed the protections and breaks they get when they don’t appear to be doing the job anymore?

    Cheers, geoff

  • Deborah Hinton says:

    Great to see you here Geoff. Sadly I think that you are right. It is bad. And as communicators I think we have a whistle blowing role to play ourselves.

    And thanks for the two adds. I especially agree on the amount of information that is kept secret – even from employees who need to know to have the context to do their jobs. As for media, I wouldn’t count them out yet [anymore than I would internal communicators] and they need to be rethinking/changing what and how they do things [as we do]. It’s a different world out there. [You’ll be glad to know since I’m picturing you in the Aussie sun that we’re in the middle of a major snowstorm!]

  • Could it all be another false flag operation to convince Americans of oppressive censorship?

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