As someone who runs a ‘sell my story website‘, it can sometimes be hard to explain to people why they do have a story – that might even potentially make the front page of a national newspaper – but unfortunately they cannot be paid for it.
But speaking recently at a lecture – Journalism in the Dock – organised by Press Gazette and City University, Sun investigations editor Brian Flynn explained how the press (and therefore the public) are missing out on important stories for fear of arrest.
Citing the Bribery Act, which has no public interest defence, he said: “Let’s say the phone rings. Someone on the other line says they’re working for a care home.
“At that care home there have been disabled or elderly people who have been abused. And they’ve reported it to the authorities and nothing has been done – and they believe that action should be taken.
“Their livelihood is at risk, their family is at risk – if we get a story in the paper, they’d like a few hundred quid. Those stories aren’t being done.”
Challenged over whether in that situation the whistleblower would ask for money, he said: “You’ve got to remember people are motivated by different things.
“Some people have families. Whether you like it or not this is not a perfect world. There are stories out there in the public interest that we cannot run because we cannot speak to those people.
“Not everybody in this world is willing to put their livelihood and family on the line out of the goodness of their heart for nothing. That’s the real world we live in.
“All I can tell you is that people ring up with that sort of story and we can’t touch it because there is no public interest defence against the bribery act.”
And asked whether journalists would really be prosecuted for running a story like this, clearly in the public interest, Flynn added: “You might say that actually they’re not going to arrest you because it’s clearly in the public interest.
“But we’re living now in a different era where journalists, post-Leveson, and post all of these arrests, are not prepared to put their own families and their own livelihoods on the line.”
Unfortunately, at Featureworld we find that the majority of whistleblowers do want to be paid for their stories. As Mr Flynn says, people aren’t always able to reveal a wrong-doing out of the goodness of their hearts. In fact, the majority – who believe they will be taking a risk exposing something which could lead to them losing their job – seem to expect to be paid thousands of pounds. However, as they cannot be paid, it is true that the story will never be printed and the wrong doing will never be exposed.