Whistleblowers: The lifeblood of democracy

The importance of the role of whistleblowers in exposing corruption and malpractice is well-established in law and rightly celebrated in a string of Hollywood movies from All the President’s Men to Erin Brockovich. 

But whistleblowers should also be celebrated as champions of free expression. The Summer 2021 edition of Index on Censorship highlights several prominent cases around the world. Brittany Winner writes exclusively about her sister, Reality, the former US intelligence specialist who leaked details of Russian interference in the 2016 American election. Winner was recently released from prison but is still prohibited from talking about the case. Her family is campaigning for a full pardon. As an investigative journalist, Index editor Martin Bright has worked with several high-profile examples, including Iraq War whistleblower Katharine Gun, the subject of the recent movie, Official Secrets, starring Keira Knightley. Whistleblowers are extraordinary people, who take incredible risks to bring the rich and powerful to account. This often exacts a terrible personal price, with whistleblowers losing their livelihoods, their mental health and even their freedom. For this issue of Index, Bright has examined the case of the case of Jonathan Taylor, an oil industry whistleblower who revealed a multimillion-dollar bribe network stretching from Angola and Equatorial Guinea to Iraq and Brazil. Index associate editor Mark Frary interviews possibly the most famous whistleblower of them all, Daniel Ellsberg, on the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed the secret history of American involvement in Vietnam. The issue also contains an exclusive interview with playwright and long-time Index supporter Tom Stoppard, Nerma Jelacic writes about how misinformation has become part of how the world sees the Syrian conflict and veteran correspondent Henry Macdonald on attacks on press freedom in Northern Ireland. Over recent months, Index has been closely involved with the case of Maya Forstater, a woman who lost her job at a think tank after expressing her view that people cannot change their biological sex. Index intervened in her employment tribunal on free speech grounds, arguing that her gender critical views were protected under equality legislation. However, we recognise this is a controversial case that demands further discussion. We have therefore commissioned two writers to give their views about the case. Philosopher Kathleen Stock hails the judgement as a victory for free speech, while Phoenix Andrews worries about its implications for trans people. .

Full contents



Sir Tom Stoppard
Nerma Jelacic
War criminal hunter
Daniel Ellsberg


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