Not long after a recent study highlighted some of the workings of whistleblower fear and risk perception, the anonymous source who brought us the Panama Papers has released a statement that sheds new light on the quest of whistleblowers all over the world.
Panama Papers’ John Doe Wasn’t in it for the Money
Judging from the document, the person responsible for the Panama Papers leak was not after fame or money, but rather in a quest for truth and political transparency. The statement was published on the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which was also home to the original reporting on the leak.
In an interesting turn of events, the whistleblower revealed that the information he had to offer had been rejected by several major media outlets, including Wikileaks itself. “For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have. My viewpoint is entirely my own... Even WikiLeaks didn’t answer its tip line repeatedly... The media has failed,” the document's author, who identified themselves as John Doe, concluded.
The 1,800 word document presents a disillusioned view of what it means to become a whistleblower in the world today. “I have watched as one after another, whistleblowers and activists in the United States and Europe, have had their lives destroyed by the circumstances they find themselves in after shining a light on obvious wrongdoing,” the source explained, making an example of Edward Snowden who, in their view, “deserves a hero’s welcome and a substantial prize, not banishment.”
Whistleblowers Deserve More Protection
What we can learn from the anonymous nature of the leak is that we must demand more whistleblower protections in order to keep the John Does of the world speaking up about fraudulent behavior by corporations, governments, and individuals alike.
In the document, which has been hailed as a manifesto, the source addressed the problem directly, calling out for an increase of whistleblower protections, “Legitimate whistleblowers who expose unquestionable wrongdoing, whether insiders or outsiders, deserve immunity from government retribution, full stop. Until governments codify legal protections for whistleblowers into law, enforcement agencies will simply have to depend on their own resources or on-going global media coverage for documents.”
Disillusionment pervades the statement, which also reveals dissatisfaction with the narrow scope of the legal and political outcome of the leak. The source referred to several nations in particular, pointing to their most problematic transparency issues.
When discussing America's standing in the matter, they said, categorically, “It is an open secret that in the United States, elected representatives spend the majority of their time fundraising. Tax evasion cannot possibly be fixed while elected officials are pleading for money from the very elites who have the strongest incentives to avoid taxes relative to any other segment of the population. These unsavoury political practices have come full circle and they are irreconcilable. Reform of America’s broken campaign finance system cannot wait.”
While different people may have different opinions about the whistleblower's position, some of the facts he signaled are undeniable. That after exposing some of the world's most powerful people as tax evaders, the source has had to remain anonymous speaks volumes.
No Simple Answers but Whistleblowers’ Social Role Critical
Meanwhile, Mauricio Macri is still president of Argentina, David Cameron, whose father was named in the leak, is still Prime Minister of the UK, and very little seems to have changed for most political leaders from around the world who were exposed in the documents.
One might ask oneself, how can the world protect a whistleblower in a tiny corner of the world, when it failed to protect a person who unmasked powerful politicians, University board members, and celebrities as tax evaders? The question does not lend itself to a simple answer.
The whistleblower's manifesto has called upon the whole world's need to reexamine the standing of whistleblowers, how we are protecting them, and why they matter. It has also made it clearer than ever that whistleblowers are among the most invaluable guardians of global democracy, transparency, and equality.