The Perugia Principles: New guidelines for journalists working with whistleblowers

A panel of investigative journalists and academics came together on Thursday evening to present for the first time the Perugia Principles, a new set of guidelines published in 2019  for journalists collaborating with whistleblowers.

Julie Posetti, lead author and fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, outlined the 12 new principles, which cover issues including cyber security and ethical practices for journalists in the digital age. Posetti invited Julia Angwin (The Mark Up), Suelette Dreyfus (Blueprint for Free Speech), Frederik Obermaier (Süddeutsche Zeitung), and Gerard Ryle (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) to discuss the value of the Perugia Principles for investigative journalism.

“I think a lot of these principles are part of our daily practices, especially in investigative journalism, but it’s important to put them in writing.” Obermaier said.

The group emphasised the value of training journalists to practice digital security, for instance by using encrypted communication channels when talking with sources. The panelists also discussed the importance of maintaining an ethical and human relationship with whistleblowers that come to journalists with information.

“It’s a human relationship,” Ryle explained. “I’ve heard it said before that your sources are not your friends, but I actually totally disagree with that. I think you sources have to become your friends and you have to be their friends.”

“The time you put in your relationship with your whistleblowers is not something that goes directly into your reporting, but still, it is essential,” Obermaier said.   

Angwin also noted that journalists must distinguish between what is secret and what is in the public interest.

“There is a thing which I think is not helpful in journalism which is that everything that is secret is news. And it’s not. Just because somebody tells you something that is embarrassing about someone else doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be your top priority,” Angwin said. “We have to make decisions on what to cover based on what’s important to the world, not just on what comes over the transom.”

The conversation ended with a discussion of the risk of anonymous sources leaking false information, a threat which could seriously damage the credibility of investigative journalism in the public eye.

The full talk can be viewed here:

Priscille Biehlmann – volunteer press office IJF19