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Ruta Mave: Whistleblowers versus the people in power

Monday 26 June 2023 | Written by Ruta Tangiiau Mave | Published in Editorials, Opinion


Ruta Mave: Whistleblowers versus the people in power
The ‘Me Too’ movement was started more about a decade ago by community organiser Tarana Burke [Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]/23062518

The power of people in power to intimidate is not absent from our little community, writes Ruta Mave.

‘She Said’ is a movie in which two female reporters investigate the age old accepted practice of sexual abuse in Hollywood. Their work and exposure of such brought down the renowned director and producer Harvey Weinstein where high profile names like Gwenth Paltrow, Rose McGown and Ashely Judd were involved.

Their meticulous work to record real events and encourage scared and skittish victims to come forward with their stories brought seven charges against Weinstein. The day after the release of the article another 80 women came forward. This landmark release led to the worldwide #metoo movement.

The journey of a journalist as a whistleblower is not easy and over history shown to be fraught with obstacle challenges that powerful people can wield that allows the perpetrator to continue unchecked for years. Weinstein paid substantial amounts of money to hush his accusers over the years. He had a team of people, his company board members, lawyers and family work to continuously keep his name out of the papers but to discredit those who brought charges against him and to limit their ability to work in the industry.

Unfortunately reporting on very serious matters against very powerful private interests can create a backlash. Powerful defendants do not enjoy paying for their fraudulent activity.

Whistleblowing is exactly as ethical as the practices it exposes are unethical.

Reporting often comes at a high price as they risk their career, their livelihood and sometimes their personal safety to expose wrongdoing that threatens the public interest. Bullying, harassment, blackmail, character assassination, sued or arrest are also possible.

Julian Assange is an Australian editor, publisher and activist. In 2006 he founded the non-profit media organisation WikiLeaks which published leaked documents that had an impact on political news. He is in a British prison and may be sent to the US to face espionage charges. He is charged with treason for publishing true information that revealed war crimes committed by the US government. Julian’s family and all fair minded people the world over watch with profound disquiet and alarm. This saga has been going on for 13 years. If he is extradited, he could spend the rest of his life in a maximum security prison and consequently permanently impact the climate for journalism around the world. Efforts should be put into acting to protect journalism and press freedom.

Another movie ‘The Post’ tells of first female publisher of a major American newspaper exposes a massive cover up of government secrets that spans three decades and four US Presidents. The Pentagon papers as they came to be known revealed that the US had expanded its war in Vietnam none of which had been reported by the American media. She was taken to court by the US Attorney General where the Supreme court ruled in favour of the paper. The government is the servant of the people and it is the people who must make guide the government. But if people don’t know what the government is doing, they cannot make an informed decision to vote. That is the role of the press media. The Post went on to expose the Watergate saga leading to President Nixon’s resignation.

Part of the reporting process is to sum up in a picture the sentiment of the public without one thousand words. The first political cartoon is dated back to 1754 and Benjamin Franklin’s call for unification of the colonies. They serve to deliver the raw view of officials and high ranking in warts and all.

The latest complaint of Kata’s depiction of what many thought as soon as they read the PM gets a full ceremonial welcome for doing his job. He drew it and the complaints came not from the public but from the PR machine who are paid to protect. It was interesting to read how disgusted PM Office’s chief of staff Ben Ponia was about a picture he chose to read more sinister actions into than what was clearly intended. He who was stood down with full pay for six months for real allegations while he was representing our country overseas.

We have some good people in high places like the Public Service Commission PSC and the Public Expenditure Revenue Committee PERC teams who are doing a stellar job in exposing areas where financial ethics and morals are not being maintained and in our higher offices and bringing people to the courts if necessary.

We have had some reporters worth their salt who have reported beyond what is delivered to them by the government PR machine and found themselves banned from attending the parliament sittings. As an opinion writer I have had threats of legal action for defamation and the paper itself to be sued for quoting actual words from lawyers and court papers. The power of people in power to intimidate is not absent from our little community.