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Public Relations: Whistle Blowing And Its Ethical Dilemmas

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Question:

Discuss about the Public Relations for Whistle Blowing and Its Ethical Dilemmas.

 

Answer:

Introduction

Whistle blowing is the situation in which one draws the attention of the public or people in authority to some acts or behaviors perceived to be of misconduct or any activity that is unethical either in the private or public sectors. Some of the common misconducts highlighted by a whistle blower may include but not limited to bullying, fraud, corruption, violation of health and safety rules and discrimination. When an employee blows a whistle he/she is likely to suffer reprisal from the employer because the employer is meant to suffer reputational damage. The said employees colleagues also reprise him/her once the out of conduct behaviors are brought to the public (Devine and Maassarani, 2008). These reprisals may turn into persecution when they are so severe and they may arise from legal channels in some cases especially when the whistle is blown to address illegitimate reasons.

 

Concept of Whistle Blowing

This concept has been in existence for many years however it’s not known by many because of the consequences and dilemmas that come with being a while blower. It takes a bold person that believes in a just society to do the whistle blowing knowing very well whatever awaits them after the act. Its therefore very important for the legal system to protect a whistle blower who in most cases means good for the society. They are the voice of the voiceless. For example in the UK the whistle blowers are protected under the public interest disclosure act 1998. Initially these disclosures were in the public interest but following the enactment of a new legislation in June 2013 the disclosures are currently done only in ‘good faith’ (Salter, 2007).

It’s a requirement that all employers adopt a policy for whistle blowing so that employees are encouraged to bring to the public attention the risky behaviors or any wrong doings. With a strong whistle blowing policy in any organization legal actions can be taken easily against any company that seem to be tolerating internal wrongdoings. With the adoption of a whistleblower policy there are laws that protect the whistleblowers from losing their jobs after reporting misconduct within the organization or even against mistreatment. Such laws include the whistleblower protection act (Cassematis and Wortley, 2013). The misconducts reported may be past, ongoing or under planning. There exist internal and external whistleblowers. For the internal whistle blowing is where the whistleblower reports the wrong act to someone within the organization while for the external whistle blowing the misconduct is reported by the whistleblower to an authority outside the organization like the law enforcement organizations. The type of whistle blowing also determines a whistleblower (Brennan and Kelly, 2007).

 

Federal Whistle Blowers

These are employees of the government that expose the misconducts of their bosses or the employees from the private sector that report their bosses’ misconducts. The misconducts have to be committed in line with the federal government. In this case the employees are protected by the act. The employee is protected from any acts of retaliation once they report any misconduct voluntarily (Davis, 2012). The government therefore does not issue any threats of taking action against the employee. Thus with such reporting there is no demotion, firing, suspensions, threats, harassments or even any forms of discrimination against the whistleblower. This protection law and the whistle blowing act have been in existence for quite some years and for example Peter Buxtun was able to discover and reveal the information about the federal government regarding some medical issues.

The government had purposely denied black men treatment that suffered from syphilis despite there being medication. This was done so as to ensure they die and their bodies used for autopsy research. This led to close to 400 men participation in this without their knowledge. An ethical complaint was then filled by Buxtun with the government twice where nothing was done until he chose to turn to media houses to reach out to the public (Zhang et al., 2009). This led to the end of such medical experiments. This was something that was profoundly morally wrong according to President Bill Clinton and he termed it as a clear racism act.

 

Corporate Whistleblowers

Private businesses are also encouraged to report any misconduct at work places. Such whistleblowers are employed by corporate companies and other private entities and their main role is to make a disclosure on the regulatory or statutory violation by their employers. For instance in 2001 Sherron Watkin an employee or a company called Enron made some discoveries on accounting irregularities in a situation where the company purposely inflated the cost of its stock. With this kind of deceit many people lost their jobs and their investments. This action by Sherron saved on many more losses that were set to be incurred (Malek, 2007).

These kinds of whistleblowers get their protection from the corporate and criminal fraud accountability act which is a subset of Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the USA. Such laws have been found to encourage whistle blowing because employees feel protected and thus encouraged to make such disclosures (Skivenes  and Trygstad, 2010). In fact retaliation has been made a federal crime in some countries like USA. People who chose to be actively engaged in whistle blowing as it has been seen are protected by some laws and therefore no need for tension whatsoever. However these laws vary across nations and are thus referred to as patchworks.

The False Claim Act

This is the most famous act and was enacted in 1863 and up to date it’s still being used. In this law a private individual is given permission to initiate a lawsuit against any business that may have committed fraud to the federal government. With this act the whistleblower is allowed to collect some percentage of money that may be awarded as a result of their whistle blowing and he/she is protected a dismissal that may be wrong (Gentile, 2010). In such lawsuits the whistleblower is a secret informant of the government and they are highly paid to carry out such investigations before blowing a whistle.

Why Whistle Blowing could be Considered an Ethical Dilemma

The revelations of an insider whistleblower are likely to have some big impacts on the society at large compared to as when it’s an outsider exposing the same misconduct (Park and Blenkinsopp, 2009). This is because an insider whistleblower has good knowledge of how the organization operates and therefore better placed when it comes to getting information that is confidential compared to someone from outside. It’s therefore possible for a whistleblower to expose misdeeds in a way that is very effective and also efficient. However In most cases this whistle blowing comes as an attack that is of surprise to the organization in question or even the government to an extent that they may not have expected some of its effects at all.

In other way the whistleblower may not be able to anticipate or even predict the consequences of taking such actions both to them and the wrongdoer. Whistle blowing is therefore one of the most important topics in regards to business ethics and therefore worth being examined (Macey, 2009). In as much as most critics believe that the decision to blow a whistle has consequences on the blower and their families it’s still necessary to have considerations of how this act can be justified so as to do away with unnecessary consequences. In essence whistle blowing has been viewed as disloyalty and damage of the organization’s image. This is because such individuals are taken as though acting against some corporate rules like ‘do not leak confidential information’, ‘do not cause disorder’ and do not harm the pride or trust of an organization’. An advice is thus provided by Devine and Maassarani to any whistleblower to be certain of their objectives of blowing a whistle on any matter and such objectives may include but not limited to having the desire to ensure the public is protected from harm and being a good citizen (Park, 2007).

Therefore as stated by De George (1993) any whistle blower can only be justified following some facts; 1) if a serious and considerable harm to the public is foreseen as a result of the misconduct. 2) The threat of the harm had previously been reported to the seniors but no action taken. 3) There is no other way the whistleblower can solve the problem arising from the misdeed. 4) The person has enough evidence and good reason to blow the whistle. The said facts then justify the need to blow a whistle and thus the blower needs protection.  However some critics feel that these facts are subjective, very broad and are of internal justification although unbiased opinions can still be conducted (Varelius, 2009). Any prospective whistleblower needs to assess whether the act would be justified at the end because there will be no one to share their responsibilities. Even with self conviction that the act is justified no society will accept it in totality.

Any whistleblower is therefore left with the dilemma of expectations for possible damages that result from whistle blowing. With such expectations of dire consequences of their acts then whistleblowers especially corporate ones should take time to carefully analyze their decisions before embarking on the mission to release sensitive information. They should clearly weigh their obligations that are both moral and ethical in relation to their well being. In real sense most whistleblowers have had to deal with severe retaliations because some of the people from the public believe it’s an act of betrayal (Nayyar, 2009). The impacts of anti-whistleblowers should be addressed with the seriousness it deserves. They should not at any cost be allowed to label whistleblowers as trouble makers who are disloyal. This is because they make the rest of the society to believe that the whistleblower is the problem in the whole scenario.  They even attribute all the unfortunate events caused by the whistle blowing act to the whistleblowers in totally.

There is therefore the need to provide an opinion that is suitable in supporting the vulnerability of a whistleblower. There is need to examine each situation of whistle blowing individually because they are never the same (Hwang, et al., 2008). The advocacy organizations therefore play important roles in ensuring the protection of whistleblowers is granted especially from the uncalled for criticisms. Therefore whistle blowing is just not an appealing activity but if the worse comes to worst then it has to be used to streamline those breaking ethics of a working environment.

On ethical issues therefore before one decides to blow a whistle it’s advisable to get advice from the colleagues they trust most or even mentors. One can even consult an attorney so as to get information that is valuable in relation to the risks that they may face and also get a perspective that is external regarding the situation and gather enough evidence (Nair, 2002). All these steps aim at ensuring one is sure of what they are just about to do and not just doing it blindly and also they are prepared psychologically for nay consequences thereafter.

 

Conclusion

It takes a lot of courage to unmask the wrong doings of an organization or even the government by making them public. Regardless of the efforts made by whistleblowers most of them have had to face and deal with outcomes that in most cases are miserable. It’s therefore preferable that the said organizations shun from corporate wrongdoing.  If these misdeeds are done away with, there wouldn’t be the need for whistleblowers in the society. Nevertheless the reality is that there will always be some form of wrongdoings especially in private sectors and their effects and damage to the society can only be prevented by the bold whistleblowers.

Recently it’s been found out that there are more whistle blowing incidences compared to the past and this is partly attributed to the enactment of different laws that protect them. People have become more comfortable in shaming the wrongdoers and the society is becoming a little bit more tolerable. The business ethics and conducts have really improved as a result of such. However a lot still needs to be done when it comes to offering protection to them. Whistle blowing should therefore not in any way be equated to with some form of disagreements on which is the best way of dealing with a problem before the situation gets out of hand.

 

References

Hwang, D., Staley, B., Te Chen, Y., & Lan, J. (2008). Confucian culture and whistle-blowing by  professional accountants: an exploratory study. Managerial Auditing Journal, 23(5), 504–  526.

Brennan, N., & Kelly, J. (2007). A study of whistle-blowing among trainee auditors. British  Accounting Review, 39(1), 61–87.

Nair K, S.( 2002).  The Ethicality of Whistleblowing and its implications for Human Resource  Management. Indian Journal of Industriial Realtions.

Salter, C. (2007). Jeffrey Wigand: The Whistle Blower.

Park, H., & Blenkinsopp, J. (2009). Whistle-blowing as planned behavior – a survey of South Korean police officers. Journal of Business Ethics, 85(4), 545–556.

Nayyar, V. (2009). Corporate Ethics Isn't About Rules; It's About Honesty. Harvard Business  Review.

Malek, J. (2007). “Moral judgment and the ideal intuitor: Dealing with moral confusion and moral disagreement”. In Pluralistic Casuistry, Edited by: Cherry, M. and Iltis, A.Dordrecht.

Varelius, J. (2009). Is whistle-blowing compatible with employee loyalty?. Journal of Business  Ethics, 85: 263–275.

Gentile, M. C.( 2010). Giving Voice to Values: Speaking Your Mind When YouKnow What's Right. Business Ethics Magazine. 

Macey J. (2009). Getting the word out about fraud: a theoretical analysis of whistleblowing and insider trading. Seminar Paper, Item 5, Yale Law School, Yale University.

Davis, M. (2012). Rewarding Whistleblwoers. International Journal of Applied Philosophy.

Skivenes M. and Trygstad SC. (2010). When whistle-blowingworks: the Norwegian case.  Human Relations 63(7): 1071–1097.

Park H. (2007). Whistleblowing as planned behaviour: a survey of Korean Police. Seminar Paper, Division of Public Policy, College of Social Science, Chung-Ang University, Ansung-Si, Republic of Korea.

Zhang J., Randy C. and Li-Qun W. (2009). On whistleblowing judgment and intention: the roles of positive mood and organizational ethical culture. Journal of Managerial Psychology 24(7): 627–649.

Devine, T. and Maassarani. T (2008). Running The Gauantlert: The Campaign for Credible Corpoarte Whislte-blower rights.

Cassematis, P.G. and Wortley,R. (2013). Predicition of Whistleblowing or Non-Reporting  Observation: The Role of personal and Situational factors.

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