Cross-border knowledge exchange on whistleblowing platforms in Amsterdam

On 30 and 31st of May and 1st of June, representatives from whistleblowing platforms from Nigeria, Indonesia and Mexico visited Free Press Unlimited in Amsterdam. All these platforms are derived from Publeaks, the whistleblowing platform that was founded in the Netherlands by Free Press Unlimited with support from Greenhost and Globaleaks. These platforms exist to allow whistleblowers and journalists to communicate privately, anonymously and safely.

“Whistleblowing platforms are very important for journalists to do their work. Oftentimes, sensitive information, like money laundering by the management of a big company, can be dangerous for someone to disclose. When there is a platform that ensures them they can share their information with journalists anonymously and safely, the chances are higher for them to do so,” says Hans Nieuwenhuijse, Senior Programme Coordinator at Free Press Unlimited.

However, there are many challenges in setting up and maintaining such a platform. After new platforms were set up in Nigeria, Indonesia and Mexico, the idea arose to connect them with each other to see if in a joint effort these challenges can be faced in a better and more effective way.

That is why two representatives of each platform were invited to come to Amsterdam for a three day intensive knowledge exchange combined with practical workshops and excursions. The workshops included digital security from Free Press Unlimited’s IT and security team, and consultation sessions with Greenhost, who facilitates the platforms, and Globaleaks, who’s software is used to create the anonymous and safe space to share information in.

All these platforms are working in different contexts and environments. In Nigeria for example, the gap in digital literacy is very noticeable. Stephanie Adams from Nigeria: “We often receive information not through the platform, but by people who bring physical documents to our office, because they just don’t know how to use it. But we do follow up on it, and we still coordinate the collaboration between the source and the newsroom.”

However, even though the contexts may be different, the main takeaway for all participants was the similarities in challenges, and the opportunities for collaboration. Some of the challenges that were discussed are: finding and maintaining good technical personnel, receiving not just more tips, but better quality tips, and financial sustainability of the platforms.

“This morning we were working together on fundraising strategies for the leaks platforms, and how we can collaborate in making joint proposals. That is really valuable. We also agreed on designing guidelines to help whistleblowers to use the platform better, including making videos together that visualize how to use the platform. There have been many good take-aways,” says Olubusola Ajibola from Nigeria.

Muhammad Kholikul Alim from Indonesia: “Being here with Mexicoleaks and Nigerialeaks and being able to share experiences is something I never imagined was possible, and feel very lucky for. Just to learn that we encounter the same barriers, and were able to discuss these, was such a good experience. The simple fact that we have a Signal-group now in which we can stay in touch is already very helpful.” His colleague Chrysantus Baju Wardhana adds to this: “It was very inspirational. One idea I have after these three days is that maybe we should look at tips cross-border as well. It would be interesting to see if some tips that we receive in Indonesia about corruption or modern slavery for example, might also occur in Mexico or Nigeria in a similar way.”

Ricardo Balderas, Mexicoleaks: “As an investigative journalist myself, I really enjoyed our visit to Follow the Money, and learning about their methodologies and way of working. Besides that it was just so useful to learn that we have the same issues, which we can overcome with the same solutions, making our work much easier.”

“I really enjoyed how these days were a very practical, working group experience. The exchange was very valuable. It was great meeting the Follow the Money team, and I am inspired by the possibility that we could maybe work on investigative stories together.” Fernanda Hopenhaym says.

Stephanie Adams from Nigeria: “It was great to experience that even in the midst of chaos, there are solutions, and we came up with them together. Before I came here I had in my mind that I wanted to learn from others. And this whole experience has given us a road map on how to move forward with Nigeria leaks. I’m really excited about the ideas we have shared.”

It was a very successful gathering that also brought a new perspective to Free Press Unlimited. Hans Nieuwenhuijse: “It was nice to notice that a whistleblowing platform in repressive countries is much more than just a secure communication channel. The platforms in Nigeria, Mexico and Indonesia also offer protection to the media themselves by having all affiliated media come out with the same story at an agreed time. This makes it more difficult for repressive authorities to come after media that publish stories that put regimes in a bad light. That was a clear difference with the Dutch platform Publeaks, where the affiliated media compete with each other after leaked tips.”

This exchange meeting was supported by a grant from the Foundation Open Society Institute in cooperation with the Program on Independent Journalism of the Open Society Foundations.