Letter to Guardian - Nick Cohen 100711

11 July 2011
Dear Sir,
Nick Cohen’s piece in comment is free highlights the whistleblower’s dilemma – how do we strive to
encourage Parrhesia – (‘free’ or ‘true’ speech) and prevent the damaging consequence of wrongdoing or
malpractice in the workplace while at the same time protecting those who speak up and challenge the
hierarchy? One thing is for sure - workers are often the first to see something going wrong and should be
recognised as the eyes and ears of any organisation. Time and again individuals who have questioned
wrongdoing are seen to be the problem rather than the issue they are raising. Time and again the
messenger is shot and the message ignored. Here at Public Concern at Work, we are trying to make a
difference by supporting those facing the dilemma of whether and if so how to speak up so that the
message is heard by those who can and ought to do something about it.
There is also a law that protects whistleblowers, but this is a very blunt tool and involves an often long and
protracted journey for those taking a claim. However the law is only half the story. We have to work
harder to make it clear within our workplaces that dissent is a good thing, a sign of openness and
transparency, both sadly missing in the scandal now engulfing News International. As has been said by
commentators across the country - secrecy and skulduggery - two things that all too often go hand in hand
present very real risks for those brave enough to speak up.
A small final point, we are concerned about what has been said by Stephen Dorrel of the Health Select
Committee – it will not help to focus on those who have failed to speak up in the wake of scandal collapse
and disaster. The answer is to ask why people didn't speak up and to do something about the culture of
silence, not to prosecute those who were too scared in the first place.
Yours sincerely,
Cathy James
Chief Executive
Public Concern at Work