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When the whistle blows - from Woodford to Snowden

When the whistle blows - from Woodford to Snowden

Posted 25 May 16 by< Ken Weldin

At the start of this month, I had the great pleasure of hosting Michael Woodford for Chartered_Accountants and ICAS-The Professional Body of CAs.

Michael told his story of how he became the first President and CEO to blow the whistle on his own company, Olympus. Being the first non Japanese President of a major Japanese company and coming across the multi billion dollar fraud within days of taking the position, the stakes were high.

The story of Edward Snowden I guess raises those stakes even higher from a personal perspective when you are denied asylum to 22 countries and have your passport frozen en transit.

I had the chance to attend with some clients ‘An Evening with Edward Snowden’ hosted by Think Inc at the weekend where he was interviewed by videolink.

NBN, Manus Island, personal connectivity, meta data, encryption, national security, government security agencies, what is acceptable versus what is tolerable and more were all covered.

Utterly compelling.  Fascinating.  Some parts scary.  Ultimately impressive.

Far more qualified and connected people than myself have yet to fully break down this story and the ramifications of his actions will continue for years. I will leave to others to also thrash out the debate as to whether he was a genuine whistleblower or a criminal.

Think Inc was the name and regardless of where you sit on this topic, it certainly gave you a lot to think about.

Among Snowden's key messages was "to only disclose if the information will change behaviours or minds".

Some food for thought for all involved in communication and reporting of all kinds, never mind whistleblowers.

What I found interesting was to compare how Woodford and Snowden described themselves and their roles, in, around and after the attendant headlines.

Woodford said when you are a whistleblower, "you become an island. There are times when there are people on the island with you, but generally speaking you are Robinson Crusoe."

Hard to imagine perhaps a more comparable modern day Crusoe than Snowden.  Other than Assange perhaps but that is definitely for another day.

Snowden repeated many times "it is not about me" and sought to depersonalise the events in order to focus on the substance of his material and his disclosures. Having heard both stories first hand recently, it would be hard to argue that they acted out of immediate self interest or to enrich themselves.

When pressed Snowden noted that in Russia today he "has never felt free-er" pointing out that as a data analyst, "I was never an outdoor cat, hanging around nightclubs," before asking us to reflect what we are comfortable with being done in our name.

Whistleblowing in its many forms and guises continues to be a hot topic amongst organisations and corporates today. Whistleblower protections -and sometimes the lack thereof -similarly.

Yet has whistleblowing become a neglected, misunderstood or simply under appreciated aspect of an effective governance framework?

Many have such a programme but do they really know what do to with it when it is activated?


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