4 theses to the relationship between whistleblowers and media

What ist the current practice of whistleblowing in Swiss media? Here my 4 theses.*

Thesis 1: Whistleblowers are the main source of investigative journalism. But…

Thesis 2: They often do not initiate the stories. They enforce them. So the stories often gain their critical power only through whistleblowers – the power to really change things.

That’s the classic development of an investigativ story: A journalist presumes a serious deficit in a certain field of public or private activity. He starts his inquiries through freedom of information act and other open sources, then publishes a first text. This text attracts Whistleblowers if the text points to a actual deficency.

With the specific informations of the whistleblower the journalist can write a second, third and more texts which really frame the deficency and name the responsible. So the pressure is high enough to change structures and staff.

That’s how many of the big stories of the last months worked: The corruption-in-the-seco-case, the case of the offshore accounts of the Ammann-Group, even the story of the Zentrale Ausgleichskasse in Geneva they all started without whistleblowers on a first level.  And even the story about the deficiency in the Social Departement of Zurich: Esther Wyler and Margrit Zopfi only went to Alex Baur, after he had written a first critical text about abuse of social welfare.

Thesis 3: There are two challenges to be met and the media have learned the lesson

First: The challenge to protect the sources. Media have learned the lesson. Neither the whistleblower of the Ammann- nor the one oft he Seco-Story have been or will be discovered. The technics of communication, the behavior of journalists and whistleblowers have evolved and the necessary skills are taught in journalism schools or investigativ networks. And the courts are helping.

Second: The challenge to triage the hate driven whistleblowers without information of public interest from the others. I think most journalists and most desks do a good job.

Theses 4: Editors and Parliament have to help

I appeal to the Editors to install secure communication technics in the editors desks. At least one secure computer with secure communication technics like PGP and TOR should be available. Or even a digital Postbox like the one at the magazine Beobachter which I developped. Today secure communication is in the responsibility of the journalist himself.

I appeal to the Legislator to protect whistleblowers better and to reinforce the right to protect the source. Today whistleblowers can be dismissed without reason, in the best case they get a compensation of 3 or 4 monthly salaries and they risk a prosecution because of illegal breach of secrets.

Whistleblowers should be allowed to inform the media after they have reported the grievances and defects to an intern and an extern notification office. The Federal Council and the house of states (Ständerat) wanted to forbid whistleblowers any contact with media. This bill now has been sent back to the federal council.

The right to protect sources (Art. 28a StGB) isn’t strong enough in Switzerland. Just in cases of corruption swiss journalists can’t garantee source protection! Because these delicts are excluded. Most of corruption delicts are on the list of exemptions in paragraph 2 of article 28a StGB (Art. 322ter to 322sexies – for example „Vorteilsannahme“, „Bestechung“ etc.). This must be changed.


* That’s the Topic of my speech and of the pannel discussion, I will attend at IAM in Winterthur on thursday, 5th of february 2015 (together with Oliver Zihlmann, Sonntagszeitung; Christian Hauser, HTW Chur; Urs Dahinden, HTW Chur.)


Ein Gedanke zu “4 theses to the relationship between whistleblowers and media

  1. Zu Ihrem Aufruf an den Gesetzgeber schiene es mir wünschenswert, wenn ein konkreterer und realisierbarer Vorschlag auf den Tisch käme. Dazu gehört auch die Präzisierung, welche „überwiegenden öffentlichen oder privaten Interessen“ die Strafbarkeit des Whistelblowings nach sich ziehen.

    Man kann dies ziemlich eng fassen, wenn man auf staatlicher Seite nur Sachverhalte zulässt, welche formell als „geheim“ oder „streng geheim“ klassifiziert sind. Auf privater Seite sehe ich überhaupt keine solchen Einschränkungen.

    Wenn allerdings in einer Publikation Persönlichkeitsrechte von Privaten oder Amtsinhabern in grober Weise verletzt würden, darf sich der Journalist diesbezüglich nicht mit „Öffentlichkeitsinteressen“ rausreden. Schliesslich ist es immer möglich, etwas bekannt zu machen ohne dass Persönlichkeitsrechte im rechtlichen Sinne verletzt werden.

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