The Tories just voted against protecting whistleblowers

Conservative MEPs stood isolated in the European Parliament in rejecting greater protection for people calling out corruption and wrongdoing.

Conservative MEPs voted against greater protection for whistleblowers, in a key European Parliament vote yesterday.

The European Parliament backed calls for the European Commission to bring forward legislation safeguarding individuals who expose wrongdoing and malpractice.

The proposals would broaden the definition of whistleblower to mean those who reveal information in the public interest – while giving full protection against retaliation, compensation and support for whistleblowers, and enabling anonymous or fully-confidential reporting.

The report – by the left-wing French MEP Virginie Rozière – also recommends setting up clear reporting channels so they can report directly to the media – rather than going through potentially corrupt regulatory bodies or internal procedures, and a new EU organisation for whistleblowers.

Yet the Conservatives were among just a fifth of MEPs who lined up against the proposals the non-binding resolution – joining fringe right-wing groups with dubious records on press freedom.

The report was by 399 votes to 101 – piling pressure on the European Commission to now act before the end of the year.

Mary Honeyball MEP, Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on legal affairs, said:

“If whistleblowers had had these protections in the past, scandals that have been covered up would have been exposed much sooner.

“In voting against this report, the Tories have once again shown themselves to be on the side of the few not the many, leaving ordinary people who take a stand against crime and corruption to sway in the wind and allow the perpetrators to get away with it.

The report proposes defining a breach of the public interest – the new criterion for legitimate whistleblowing – to include acts of: “Corruption, conflicts of interest, unlawful use of public funds, threats to the environment, health, public safety, national security and privacy and personal data protection, tax avoidance, attacks on workers’ rights and other social rights and attacks on human rights.”

And it stresses the role of whistleblowers in revealing serious attacks on the public interest, noting “whistleblowers have proved to be a crucial resource for investigative journalism and for an independent press.”

Mary Honeyball MEP added:

“[The] report also proposes special attention to the role of investigative journalists and their protection, especially poignant following the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese journalist who exposed the Panama Papers scandal. This tragic case highlights just how much whistleblowers need greater protections.”

Both the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the European Federation of Journalists were among those calling on the Parliament to adopt the resolution.

Sarah Kavanagh, the National Union of Journalists’ senior campaigns and communications officer, told Left Foot Forward:

“The NUJ is concerned by and disappointed that British members of the European Parliament voted against new safeguards for whistleblowers acting in the public interest.

The vote sends a worrying signal about the UK government’s attitude in Europe and its intentions at home.”

Earlier this year, the union responded to the Cabinet Office-backed Law Commission’s consultation on reforming the UK official secrets legislation – which recommended drastically extending prison sentences for leaking state secrets. The NUJ note yesterday’s vote appears part of a trend:

“The government’s actions seem to be underpinned by a desire to reinforce government secrecy, and to dissuade people from disclosing information showing serious wrongdoing.

“This makes it much more difficult to engage in journalism that exposes public danger, abuses of power, serious crimes or state misconduct.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also challenged the Conservatives on their decision.
Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director, said:

“The decision of Tory MEPs to vote against the report is deeply disappointing, but unfortunately not surprising, given moves against press freedom taking place in the UK under Conservative leadership, such as the adoption of the menacing Investigatory Powers Act, and the looming threat of a potential new Espionage Act.

“Whistleblowers and investigative journalists are finding themselves increasingly at risk in the UK. This worrying trend must be reversed.”

In standing against these proposed Europe-wide protections, the Conservatives have shown themselves to be no supporters of press freedom or whistleblowing. Which we should have guessed, given mooted plans to ban encryption and criminalise whistleblowers earlier this year…

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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