Two years ago, Private Bradley Manning, a US army intelligence analyst was arrested for supposedly leaking the materials on “Collateral Murder” to WikiLeaks. This video features the airstrike that killed around a dozen civilians and two of the Reuters journalists. The cameras that these journalists were carrying were mistaken for guns which cost them their lives. Two children who arrived in a van to collect the dead bodies were shot along and the pilots had jested and laughed over what they had done. What Whistleblower Bradley Manning committed was treason to the US military but in eyes of the rest of the world, he is hailed a hero.

This is just one of the innumerable cases that WikiLeaks published. WikiLeaks’ purpose is to serve as an electronic drop box to the whistleblowers to disclose the unvarnished truth out into the public domain. That is the emergence of WikiLeaks has facilitated the whistleblowers a safe conduit to leak classified information behind the mask of an anonymous. The man who founded WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, strongly believes in transparency and freedom of speech in democracy and would sidestep established authority for it. He has often been compared to Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower of the Pentagon papers to the New York Times that exposed the dark truth about the Vietnam War.

Thus, the coming of WikiLeaks has caused unrest around the world, astounding as it is that a just small group of individuals can go on to create global uproar.

Now, transport the scenario to the small Himalayan dragon kingdom and map the character that Assange is. The only daredevil of a person with a touchstone that screams transparency in democracy and would expose skeletons from unsuspected closets is Tenzin Lamzang. He is also seemingly the only person who has whistleblowers whose information content can leave the public gaping on the spot.

Of course, there are differences – a world of it that sets them apart and that which begins from one being an internet publisher which is an unregulated, open culture at the moment and the other from a traditional paper-based media with a hoard of ethics to conform to. But what bring them together are their beliefs and the vigour with which they will attempt to achieve it. What becomes questionable is how much transparency are they asking for and is 100% transparency at all that safe where national security is concerned? What adds to the confusion is one of Lyonchen’s statements in the past when he had said that newspaper publications on issues from an era long bygone on DPT members was an ambition to harm the party and to avert them from participating in the next election. Assuming there is some truth to the statement shifts the entire focus from the bravados of our heroes to the ethics of their whistleblowers.

The question of who these whistleblowers might be is certainly important but not as much as what their intentions are. Are they motivated by a desire to harm or avenge somebody? Coincidence or not, there is also a certain timeliness to the blaring news publications highlighting DPT officials for which the intention of the whistleblowers becomes all the more questionable unless Lamzang has no whistleblowers at all but was rather hit by a divine lightening, awakening him to the issues. But assuming we are more pragmatic and whistleblowers are very much there, it requires us to analyze issues from more than merely the apparent front.

As Marlin said transparency is direly necessary when the information processes are skewed by the ones in power in a democratic nation and individuals like Assange and Lamzang come as the steam rollers to even out the inequalities but in the case of WikiLeaks, can the institution of legal, military, organisational and even national secrets be allowed to become obsolete, putting at risk the lives of the national troops in warzone and severing the geopolitical ties etc.? In our very own context, asking from our leaders for total transparency from the time when democracy was barely conceived is of little help to the progress of our newly formed democratic procedures unless progress begins to mean that yesterday was better than tomorrow.

There is always the difference between public interest and what the public is really interested in. The public is interested in knowing what Chang Ugyen has done and how he will pay for it, the public is also interested in the land grab cases of Gyelposhing, the reactions of the officials involved and how the blames will be tossed around but focusing on a newly formed democratic processes and contributing to its vibrancy would do great for public interest. If graves needed digging, it would have to start from someone living at the topmost place habitable to the person living in the lowest region of the country and 99% of them will have done some mischief, the rest 1 percent will be the ones disabled for life.

Leaking information into the public domain is letting privacy fade into obscurity and going at the rate whistleblowers are encouraged, at some point in future, there will be trust issues and conversations will be reduced to a bare minimum. In the end, instead of freedom of speech, the reverse of it is likely to happen.

Although generally speaking, the conducts of whistleblowers are based on goodwill for all, it is not without possibility that there are exceptions and that few of them will be based on a desire to harm others. Who will blow the whistles on these whistleblowers then?
7 Responses
  1. PaSsu Says:

    Like Aum Neten pointed out, "You come to complain about someone when he has caused you some harm. You come to get your revenge more than you come to fight corruption." Same could be the case with whistleblowers, but if it's not then I salute them.
    You have done a great comparison, Tenzing Lamzang is going a great job, which not many will dare. He deserves our appreciation and motivation more than our apprehensions. In this small society of our if you hurt 100 people then you are hurting the entire country, because we are connected some way or the other. If Tenzing gave us wrong information then he must be punished, but if he is right then those that shun him are guilty!

    A great piece Kunga!

  2. Kinga Choden Says:

    Thanks Passu. True, whistleblowers deserve some appreciation but not, if the long term affects surpasses the short term benefits of such actions. Leveraging the two is a matter of time. We will wait and see :)

  3. blowing whistle in the interest of public and nation are necessary.....

    As much as they deserve appreciation, that much they also deserve protection. We need more such whistle blowers.......

  4. holocaust Says:

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions, so they say. There will be whistleblowers who feed confidential information to journalists for various reasons. Let's assume, it is intended for public interest. No complain whatsoever. Now Let's assume there's something fishy, vested interest, vengeful motive etc.. I guess that's where the job of the whistleblower ends along with whatever intention he or she has. Thereon, whether to break the story or not, depends on the discretionary powers of the journalist and the editor of the media organization he or she works for. The onus falls on them. While the value of the information as an explosive news story weighs heavy, so does equally the ethical principles to run it or not! Actually, in one way, it is simple. It's about credibility and accountability of journalists and media houses. If they give in to popular demands - what public wants and not what they need to know -

  5. Kinga Choden Says:

    @Peldhen Sonam Nima,

    We need whistleblowers who are genuinely concerned for public interest, not ones who will spread and smirk

    You are absolutely right.

    I have had discussions on this, beginning right from home where it is contended that the tactics used by TheBhutanese is the very basis on how successful papers with a draconian onus for survival will function. Yet, as citizens of a nation with nascent democracy, it is one of our responsibilities to weigh what is thrown at us : either take it at face value or read between the lines.

    You are right. There is a demarcation between the roles of the whistleblowers and the journalists. They do what they have to do. Only, it becomes dangerous at the great possibility that these acts can have unforeseen repercussions. Fearfully, it will be too late then.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Kinga, where do you stand? What role do you think people like you play over a long period of time - when I say people like you I mean people who contribute nothing concrete but just their opinions based on fear. TheBhutanese is black and white, whereas people like you always stay in grey areas.

  7. Kinga Choden Says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    Here's one another opinion...

    Its a matter of stance really. You think I am in the grey area and theBhutanese in black and white but from where I stand, it is just the reverse. Often things are not the way they seem. Beyond the readable facade and pompous attire of bravado is an unreadable tunnel that leads to thought processes or the sheer lack of it that can be a cause of a hell lot of repercussions beyond the confines of the media house. My opinions are, as you said, based on fear...and it is a fear that every responsible citizen will be burdened with - the fear of uncertainties and possibilities at the shortsightedness of activities that surrounds me.

    I am blogger and my preferred blogging activity is to whine, chime and opinionate infinitely if I like. I leave the job of informing the public to our capable journalist - except how they do it needs digging our(as readers) moral conscience every once in a while.

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