Can governments muzzle whistle blowers?

As the back of the year faded from view, we were given free information on what American diplomats REALLY think of their hosts in Africa and elsewhere. The leaks are classified messages sent home by US ambassadors in their missions around the world.

As the back of the year faded from view, we were given free information on what American diplomats REALLY think of their hosts in Africa and elsewhere.

The leaks are classified messages sent home by US ambassadors in their missions around the world. Somehow,  the messages or cables were leaked to Wikileaks website which, in turn, leaked them to major newspapers. They are now the subject of debate globally.

Of course, the US has been infuriated and embarrassed, and has been doing a lot of damage control. Top US diplomats have been convincing foreign governments that the leaks are unfortunate but that they don’t reflect “the policy of US”. Apparently, most governments have ignored the leaks, possibly as analysts have suggested, they contain no more news than the public has been getting from political analysts or investigative journalists. However, one government spokeperson in Africa, stung by what the leaks said about his country, called the allegations “preposterous and out of sync with reality”.

The only drastic move about the leaks is that one African First lady is dragging a local newspaper to court for implicating her and a bank governor in illicit diamond deals. The lady said the leaks diminished her respect “as the mother of the nation” to “a point of disappearance”. She wants a staggering US $ 15 million in damages.

American politicians want the website, managed by Australian Julian Assange, labeled a terrorist organization; Sarah Palin, former Republican presidential candidate, reportedly asked “why Assange was not pursued with the same urgency as we pursue al-qaeda and Taliban leaders.”

This could have led to the arrest and detention of Assange in London but as you read this the man has been freed on bail.

The 39-year-old computer hacker, reported to live a nomadic life, was quoted by the BBC as saying: “I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter and to reveal as we get it, which we have not yet, the evidence from these allegations” Assange and his Wikileaks saga may give rise to whistle blowers more difficult to deal with.

Robert Marshall, an MP in Iceland, wants to make his country a global haven for whistleblowers and freedom of expression. He told DeutscheWelle radio that he is in the process of setting up an Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI). Marshall, said IMMI will create a legal frame work to protect journalists and their sources and facilitate interaction between whistle blowers and journalists.

In a similar development, a new website, ‘‘open leaks.org’’, has been officially launched by former Wikileaks employees including one Daniel Domscheit-Berg, previously a Wikileaks spokesperson in Germany. Domscheit-Berg told DeutscheWelle that the site will make available to organizations world wide, technology which will enable them receive documents or any other kind of information which will then be relayed to news media organizations, labour unions or NGOs.

Unlike Wikileaks, IMMI will have a foundation and an organizational structure that will comprise a whistle blowing – related – legislation in Germany. Domscheit-Berg criticized Wikileaks for its opaque nature, saying: “These guys are asking transparency from everyone else but they are not transparent themselves” He blamed the site’s current troubles on its shaddy way of doing business.
Meanwhile, a number of Newspapers around the world are up in arms in defence of Wikileaks.

The Washington post said in part: “The government has no business indicting someone who is not a spy and who is not legally bound to keep its secrets. Doing so would criminalise the exchange of information and put at risk responsible media organizations that vet and verify material and take seriously the protection of sources and methods when lives or national security are endangered.”

As whistle blowers devise better survival skills, governments should work to make their secrets secure or have their diplomats make undiplomatic utterances only in their home offices.
 
Vedaste Kambanda works at Rwanda Television

kambaveda@yahoo.com

 

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