Whistleblowing – speaking up in the public interest about wrongdoing or risk – is at its core an act of loyalty and concern for the greater good. The English term “whistleblower” has evolved from a negative term connoting “snitch” or “tattle-tell” to one that is perceived as much more nuetral or positive.
Now more than ever, whistleblowing is associated with loyal individuals who try to speak up in the interests of others, including the interests of their employers or the service they are meant to provide. It is also understood that whistleblowers most often try to alert those closest to the problem first – their employer, their union, the person responsible, or an appropriate authority – and only go public with the information when there are few or no realistic or safe options available.
Whistleblowing is a democratic accountability mechanism and whistleblowers have saved lives and livelihoods, often with very little thanks or reward. Punishing and branding the messenger and paying little or no heed to the message does us all a disservice.
WIN members and experts have started to share the terms that are being increasingly used in their languages and in their laws. These highlight how perceptions are changing and how more positive terminology is being chosen or suggested.
By talking about whistleblowing internationally, it is hoped that a greater cross-cultural dialogue will help us consider why we might want to normalise the term.
When looking at the table below, think of your own language and the terminology that is used – perjorative terms instantly conjure up notions of betrayal and disloyalty but are often kneejerk reactions rather than a proper consideration of the facts.