That crimes are kept secret is part of the offence. Revealing and punishing it is in the interest of most people – except the perpetrators. In everyday life, however, things look different. This can be seen in the legal situation, whether a crime must be reported or not. Society actually has an interest in persecuting crimes. However, the so-called whistleblowers would need a clear legal situation. Although we are talking in Germany about the duty of disclosure, according to which confidants make themselves liable to prosecution. At the same time, many employees of companies and governmental authorities are contractually bound to secrecy. However, the existing laws only seem to apply in advance (see in German Criminal Code (StGB) § 138 Non-notification of planned criminal offences, Law against Unfair Competition (UWG) § 17 Betrayal of Business and Trade Secrets). How are we supposed to behave?
Since this is a legal issue, the legislator should provide clarity so that the informants who detect such offenses do not get stuck in the dilemma of exposing a crime and at the same time being prosecuted for secret treason.
Serious violations of the legal system are called crime that are normally prohibited in all jurisdictions – but only if you get caught.
- Duty of disclosure
An obligation to report would exist, if someone had knowledge of a criminal fact. However, as already indicated, in Germany this duty of disclosure seems to exist only before the offence is committed (see Criminal Code (StGB) § 138 Non-notification of planned criminal offences). This is to prevent the crime. But, what if the crime has already been committed? Does that mean you don’t have to report crimes afterwards? This would be bad news for the whistleblowers, as they usually become active after the event.
A secret is a fact that is kept hidden from the public. The larger the circle of confidants, the more difficult it becomes to prevent the information leakage. Therefore enterprises and state institutions secure themselves with appropriate secret agreements (see also Law against Unfair Competition (UWG) § 17 Betrayal of Business and Trade Secrets). In the end, employees who disclose internal information, regardless of whether it is about legal or illegal aspects, are liable to prosecution – think about the Diesel affair, tax CDs or corruption.
In the eye of the public, these unveilers of secret information are ethical role models who are committed to the common good when they uncover criminal activity. They operate without safety-net at their own risk.
To what extent illegal secrets are entitled to protection is in the eye of the beholder. The tax authority that receives as a result back payments, will welcome the hints. The international community that can prove against a state that it has violated human rights is well served by internal information. The uncovered perceives it quite differently and will do everything to punish the whistleblowers. The double standard that goes along with this becomes visible when only war criminals from weak states are called to account – The little ones are hanged and the big ones are left to run. If any information is beneficial for me, the whistleblower is welcome. If a data leakage exposes me, I guess not. For the common sense of justice, this is an untenable condition.
Bottom line: Whistleblowers are walking on thin ice. Although society proclaims that there is a moral duty to reveal misconduct, the laws do not protect the revealers. There is neither an obligation to report, nor is one protected from a charge of treason. For an information society it is dubious, if the secrecy of illegal activity is promoted and protected by lack of laws.
P.S.: No good prospects for Julian Assange, who made it possible to take a look behind the perpetrators’ facade.
It is a difficult balancing act to filter one out of two unpleasant solutions. The choice between pest and cholera only gives hopes that both will not happen – although fate could still pass you by. And then, because of the different interpretations, additionally many have the public hounding them. There seems to be no way out for the favorable representation of one’s intentions. No matter which solution you choose, you will always be shown that it is the wrong one. A good example is the current debate on the sponsorship of events by political organizations, such as the EU. Can a soft drink producer support an event financially without being under general suspicion of trying to influence?
This is a dilemma for the organizers. If sponsoring takes place, it is assumed that the companies buy favorable decisions from politicians. If the organizers renounce the funding by the industries, it could result in the fact that somebody is accused of wasting public funds. Where is the way out of this dilemma? The following steps will help you find your way out of this desperation.
Nowadays, news are almost simultaneously in the media. The immediate consequences often only become clear afterwards. The experienced reporter has a sharpened eye for interesting matters. If then the logo of a soft drink manufacturer is emblazoned on the event sign of a political association with the note “sponsored by”, then speculations start. It is important to understand the situation. Sponsor or not? Influenced or not?
The real dilemma should be clear; otherwise you will make the wrong conclusions.
After recognizing the dilemma, you should work out the pros and cons. What speaks for one perspective and what for the other? What are the reasons against it? With this ProCon list you can classify the different options – by the way also the possibility of choosing none of the alternatives. This way you choose the lesser evil.
The real dilemma resolves by itself, since a reasonable decision is prepared.
The consequences resulting from the dismantling of the dilemma unfortunately still remains fatal. For this reason, the risks are separated into factual consequences and undesirable impressions. Factual consequences are physical or human damages. Damage can be minimized by means of preventive risk limitations or short-term crisis management. Public evaluations are opinions that damage one’s reputation. A coherent reasoning and comprehensive publication can help the audience to better understand their own point of view. However, in the end, the public still values at its own discretion based on the mediated “reality”
If the dilemmas are not practical emergencies, such as natural disasters, economic threats or war, then these are often political reasons that should be confronted politically with clarifying statements.
The decisive factor of a dilemma is the fact that the predicament is not under control, but that somebody has to choose one of several undesirable alternatives. Doing nothing by shock-induced paralysis is only the last option. Through the above steps you understand better, which possibilities exist with which consequences. Since it is not possible of safely getting out of this clamp, it is important to accept the insolvability and to decide on one of the alternatives. You are aware of the consequences and initiate appropriate countermeasures.
The dilemma disappears, when you adopt the chosen solution – and above all when you are convinced that you are doing the right thing.
The most important part of the solution is the justification. Since everyone is always the victim of a limited range of vision, we should always explain our solutions in such a way that others can develop their own opinions based on the available arguments. However, poor processing throws oil into the fire. For this reason, well prepared public relations are indispensable.
The dilemma is mitigated by proactive media work.
Bottom line: With the sensory overload in the media, attention is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity that everyone is ripping off – with the aim of selling products, services, or themselves. In this context, clever expressions about decisions that can be evaluated differently are a good way to fight for one’s share of attention. This means that all kinds of decisions are always placed on the gold scale. Starting point are mostly dilemmatic situations, such as sponsoring political events. If you get sponsored, you get suspected of being impressionable. If you pay, you waste taxpayers’ money. This desperation is solved by choosing an alternative, usually the one with the least damage. For this purpose you should understand the dilemma and estimating the advantages and disadvantages. As soon as you dissociate the consequences, you select a solution and explain it to the public. Do the least bad thing and talk about it. That’s how you get out of the dilemma.