Whistleblower directive: The EC takes “an important step” but improvement on public reporting yet to be made

On 23 April, the European Commission issued a proposal for a directive on the protection of persons reporting on breaches of Union law. This is an important step in acknowledging the crucial importance of the protection of whistleblowers against intimidation and retaliation in European democracies.

The proposed directive emphasises the important role of whistleblowers as journalistic sources for investigative journalism, allowing the industry to fulfil its ‘watchdog’ role. It also acknowledges that sufficient whistleblower protection is needed to ensure the freedom of expression as well as the public’s right to access information and media freedom. This is indeed crucial as it allows citizens to form their opinions about current affairs, participate in political debates and better exercise their democratic rights.

Yet, while it is important that internal and external channels of reporting do exist for whistleblowers, it is also crucial that whistleblowers may disclose relevant information to the media. In practice, the proposal only allows whistleblowers to go public as a last resort and under unclear conditions which hampers both whistleblowers and journalists in their ability to share misconduct with the public. The Commission’s intention to improve whistleblower protection in Europe and recognize whistleblowers’ important role in enabling journalists and the free press should be translated into appropriate rules that do not discourage whistleblowers from turning to the media.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and News Media Europe (NME) believe that some wrongdoings are so serious that the public has a right to know, irrespective of the availability of reporting mechanisms.