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Media Disclosures

The media plays an important role in bringing wrongdoing to light, and many of the most famous whistleblowers have been those that shared their concerns with the media. However, speaking to the media can be complex and uncertain, and comes with risks that you might not face when reporting concerns to your employer or to a regulator. If you have exhausted all routes for concern raising, if the concerns are extremely serious and systemic, or there is no appropriate regulator, then a disclosure to the media may help to bring attention to the issue and apply pressure to the organisation’s with oversight of the concerns to take action 

This page details some of the most important things to consider when you are thinking about whistleblowing in the media. Whistleblowing to the media can be very risky and we recommend you seek tailored advice before speaking to the media. If in doubt, call our advice line or seek legal advice. 

By ‘media’, we are referring to print, broadcast and online journalism from established outlets. Social media disclosures are a different matter entirely and Protect do not recommend posting your whistleblowing concerns on social media. Not only is it legally risky, but it is unlikely to be as effective in getting concerns addressed. 

When should I go to the media?

It will only be in unusual circumstances that the media is the most appropriate place for a whistleblower to take their concerns. 

Journalists are not regulators, and in most circumstances your employer or a regulator will be better able to investigate and fix the alleged wrongdoing.  

Ask yourself: 

Can I raise concerns internally?

Raising concerns internally is often the safest and most effective way .

If not, is there a regulator I can go to?

A regulator will have powers to demand information or conduct inspections, see the government list of prescribed regulators for more information.

Could I raise my concerns to an MP or MSP?

Disclosures to MPs/MSPs are much more likely to be legally protected than media disclosures. 

Could I raise my concerns to an MP or MSP?

Unlike a regulator, a media outlet does not have enforcement powers: they can only bring wrongdoing to light, they cannot fix it. 

What journalists do have is investigative skills, and an audience. Bear this in mind when deciding if and when to go public with your concerns. If the solution you need is a thorough investigation and enforcement action, then a regulator is likely to be more appropriate. However, if what is needed is wider exposure, then a media disclosure may be useful.  

Situations where a media disclosure may be appropriate include: 

  • The issue has already been raised to a regulator and not been addressed. 
  • You have raised to your employer and there is no regulator with the powers to investigate or punish the wrongdoers. 
  • The issue is so urgent that it needs to be brought to public attention immediately. 
  • You believe that reporting through official channels will give the wrongdoers the opportunity to enact a cover up. 

Will the law protect me?

The law that protects whistleblowers in the UK is called the Public Interest Disclosure Act. Under this, workers who raise concerns about wrongdoing in the public interest are protected against retaliation at work. 

It provides different tiers of protection to different kinds of disclosure: disclosures to an employer or to a regulator are much more likely to be protected. A disclosure to the media is a ‘wider disclosure’ and must meet a complex series of tests to be protected. 

A few key points to bear in mind are that:

  • PIDA only protects against retaliation in a workplace context – if you are threatened with violence after speaking to the media, call the police immediately. 
  • PIDA protections are retroactive – they will not stop victimization from occurring, they only give a right to seek compensation in an employment tribunal afterwards. 
  • PIDA only applies to media disclosures in rare circumstances. If your disclosure does not meet the legal requirements for protection then you may not be able to access a remedy if you are treated negatively by your employer as a result of speaking to the media. 

What are the key risks associated with a media disclosure?

Disclosures to the media mean greater exposure, and this means greater risk. It is possible that if you leak information that is confidential, or damaging to the reputation of your employer then they may threaten to sue you. Rich and powerful people may do this, even where the claim is baseless, as a way of silencing their critics. 

Making a disclosure to the media is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. In some cases, it may be the only option left to drive meaningful change, but it comes with a number of significant risks to you, the whistleblower.  

Firstly, you may have very little control on how the journalist writes the story. The article may put you or the concern in a totally different light from what you wanted, which is why it is key you trust the journalist you go to and agree some key guarantees before they publish your story.  

If your story and your name is in the media, you may also face a campaign of abuse and harassment by people who may be made very angry by the story, for example if they want to protect the organisation you blew the whistle about. This can be both on social media and in the real world, and it can be very difficult to make it stop, the police will only intervene in the most serious cases. 

In addition, as the whistleblower, you risk getting sued or punished in some way by your (ex) employer for disclosing your story to the media. The key risks associated with a media disclosure are:  

Suffering workplace or post-employment detriment

If your employer or ex-employer discovers you have gone to media there is a risk that they may respond negatively and victimise you as a result. Once your story is on the internet, your name is likely to be permanently linked with your whistleblowing. This may be career ending: many employers still see whistleblowers as ‘troublemakers.’ Most of the prominent whistleblowers whose story got a lot of media coverage in recent years had to abandon their original profession and completely change career after going public, from Katharine Gun to  Frances Haugen or Desiree Fixler

Being sued for defamation

If your employer believes the concerns that have been published are false and has caused, or is likely to cause, serious harm to a person’s reputation they could bring a defamation claim. The law around defamation is complex, more information can be found here: Defamation and whistleblowing – Protect – Speak up stop harm (

Being sued for breach of confidence

can take place when a worker discloses or uses information that could damage the employer’s business, clients, or employees. The law around confidentiality is complex, more information can be found here; Breach of confidence and whistleblowing – Protect – Speak up stop harm (

If your employer brings a legal claim against you for breach of confidence or defamation, there are defences available, however these tend to be extremely complicated and expensive claims to defend.  If you are considering making a media disclosure, do contact Protect or a lawyer for advice first. 

If you are subjected to a lawsuit after going public with information about wrongdoing, seek advice immediately. You may be facing a Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPP) – malicious legal action designed to silence critical voices. If this happens to you, it may be appropriate to report the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. 

Note that media exposure can also provide protection to whistleblowers. If a company is already the subject of a damaging national media story, then suing the whistleblower source may well be a PR risk they are unwilling to take.  

Can I speak to the media if I have signed an NDA?

If you have signed an NDA, you may still be able to legally raise concerns, but you will need to be more careful in the way that you raise concerns. Under whistleblowing law you can still make a whistleblowing disclosure, even if you have signed an agreement not to speak publicly about your employment. 

This does not mean that the entire NDA is invalid, it only means that it cannot prevent you making a legally protected whistleblowing disclosure. Whether this applies will depend on what the concerns are and how you raise them, and you should seek legal advice before proceeding. For more information, see our page on 43J: A Protection against NDAs.

Will my identity be protected?

It is an article of faith among journalists that they do not reveal sources, something which the NUJ describes as being of “critical importance”. Most journalists take this responsibility very seriously, and will do everything they can to keep your identity secret. However, there have been times when journalists have, willingly or not, revealed the identity of their sources, including whistleblowers. Think carefully about the risks, and make sure you take steps to minimize them. 

Before you give consent to a journalist to publish the information you bring them, you should initiate an ‘off the record’ conversation. This means that the information cannot be published. This can allow you to build up a relationship and set the terms on which you are willing to share information. You can discuss your concerns and seek assurances from them that they will take steps to protect your identity.  

If you’re satisfied, you can then give them permission to publish the information, either publicly or with your identity anonymised. Even if you do not give them permission to publish, off the record conversations can still be helpful in steering a journalist in the right direction. 

Consider also whether the information you are sharing is inherently identifying. A journalist could take all the steps in the world to protect your identity, but if it is information only known to a small group of people, then you may still be identified if it becomes public. 

How do I approach a journalist?

There are thousands of journalists out there, and it can be difficult to know who to go to. Consider that every media outlet has its own priorities and its own agenda. Once you have provided information, you will have little control over how it is used or presented, so make sure you trust the person you speak to, and have a clear picture of their intentions. 

A good starting point can be to look for a journalist with a record of having reported on the issue. For example, if you want to blow the whistle on pollution by the construction industry, then find an investigative journalist who has written on the subject before and approach them directly. If you can find someone with a track record of working with whistleblowers before, even better. 

Be careful about how you reach out. Do not communicate from a work device or a work email account. Consider using a messaging app with end-to-end encryption, such as Telegram or Signal. 

Make sure you seek assurances on confidentiality from the journalist and their publisher beforehand. 

Before giving your consent to publication, make sure you understand exactly how the story will be framed, and how any information you provide will be used.  

Should I provide evidence?

There is a difficult balance to be struck when providing evidence of wrongdoing to a journalist. On the one hand, it can make your story more credible, and can give them access to information they would not otherwise obtain. On the other hand, it increases the legal risk to the whistleblower, and their chances of being identified. 

Even if you make a legally protected whistleblowing disclosure, the law will not protect you from the consequences of any misconduct or crime you commit while doing so. If you break the law in the course of obtaining or transferring evidence, you could be in trouble. 

If you do choose to provide evidence, here are some steps you can take to minimize the risk: 

  • Do not forward emails or download files directly from work accounts, as this will leave a trail. Instead, take screenshots or photos. 
  • Rather than providing the documents, can you provide information about their location that will help the journalist find them on their own? 
  • Can you show the documents to a journalist without sharing them? 

Speaking to the media is not a decision that should be taken lightly and is one the can be fraught with risk, we strongly recommend seeking legal advice before approaching a journalist. Our Advisers can provide advice on your rights when speaking to media, and help you consider how to approach the media in the safest, most effective way.  

Top tips

  • Seek advice: Protect’s advisers are on hand to support you.
  • Consider all the risks (professional, personal, legal, financial) and whether you are ready to take them.
  • Consider whether the media will be an appropriate or effective forum for your concern raising? Is there a regulator you can speak to instead? 
  • Find the right person: someone you trust, with experience of reporting on the specific kind of story.
  • Proceed cautiously: start with an off-the-record conversation, and only consent to publish when you feel comfortable.
  • Be careful about evidence: taking and sharing documents could lead to adverse legal or professional consequences for you.

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