Access to information, and the free circulation of information, is an elementary right for every citizen. In a move to strengthen and enlarge the scope of this fundamental public freedom, Mediapart has created a website dedicated to the publication of information of public interest, and which would otherwise remain hidden. Launched this Thursday March 10th, it is called FrenchLeaks, and is introduced here by Mediapart editor François Bonnet. (Go to FrenchLeaks by clicking here)
Our new site, named with an amicable nod to WikiLeaks with which Mediapart is a new media partner, is a tool for widening public access to information in France. Its guiding objective is quite simply to re-establish the principle of the right of access to information that is of public interest, a right which is all too often abused by those in a position of power, whether political or economic.
FrenchLeaks is a whistle-blowing site. Because its contents concern public affairs, exposure should be the rule, and secrecy the exception. Any document that concerns the futures of peoples, nations and societies are worthy of public dissemination so that citizens can form an opinion, judge the evidence, make choices and take action to influence public affairs and government policies.
FrenchLeaks is a documentary base for texts, images, sound recordings and films. It is firstly concerned with placing in the public domain contents that have first been the subject of investigation by Mediapart journalists. For its launch, we have posted several important Mediapart investigations, concerning the Karachi affair, the so called ‘Butler tapes’ recordings that sparked the L’Oréal-Bettencourt scandal, along with numerous confidential documents that Mediapart has gained access to in its exclusive investigations into the French banking world and the Bolloré group. These will soon be followed by further documents and reports already cited in Mediapart investigations.
But FrenchLeaks is also there to help members of the public knock down unjustified walls of silence. The site allows sources to transmit, in complete security and confidentiality, documents of public interest which will be placed online after a preliminary investigation by our journalists working to strict professional guidelines.
The digital revolution has given the means to reinforce the right to information. The creation of participative media has created new models in which the readers are associated with the contents, allowing them to contribute, alert and inform.
Secrecy, unaccountability and a deep malaise
FrenchLeaks pursues this new alliance between readers and journalists. The documents supplied by sources, which are guaranteed total confidentiality through a secured and encrypted technical platform, will be systematically validated, assessed and placed into context before being published in their entirety. It is important to note that the public interest is not served by every revelation concerning private lives nor the contravention of fundamental personal rights.
FrenchLeaks is a logical continuation of the Mediapart editorial project. When Mediapart was launched on March 16th 2008, this was how we presented it: “It is part of a long democratic tradition that makes the press a tool for the transparency of government actions, on company affairs, on every seat of power, whatever that power is.” We also presented Mediapart’s radical innovation in creating a participative medium “in which readers can express themselves freely, create their own news topics, launch debates, set up discussions and inspire thought.” These two principles lie at the heart of FrenchLeaks.
What led us to launch this new whistle-blowing site today? The idea was under discussion for several months, and we were naturally encouraged to advance the project by the recent WikilLeaks revolution (see Mediapart editorial here) which has now suddenly bounced news reporting and information gathering into a new era. Another accelerating factor has been the revolutionary upheaval sweeping the Arab nations, which have demonstrated that revelations about the nature of dictatorial regimes motivated social and democratic insurrection.
But finally, the situation in France today convinced us that it was high time to engage in this new battle for the freedom of information. France has now been engaged for ten years in the Afghan quagmire, where the only possible outcome is failure. Amid a largely general indifference, 54 French soldiers have been killed, and thousands of troops have been sent to the battlefield without there ever having been held a proper public debate on the subject. Two years ago, Mediapart wanted to launch a project that the Anglophone media have widely engaged in, namely a simple biographical inventory of the soldiers killed in service. But our contacts with the French Ministry of Defence were repeatedly met with silence, in an attempt to hide the reality of the country’s engagement in Afghanistan.
This is but one example among so many others in a country where the culture of public authorities is above all one of secrecy. Defence secrecy, in particular, which the French government under President Nicolas Sarkozy has engaged in reinforcing and widening to block several highly sensitive judicial investigations, not least those concerning the far-reaching Karachi affair. A secrecy in everything and without regulation, one that allowed the French foreign minister to remain publicly unaccountable for the country’s policies toward the Arab world (and which ended on the rocks).
The refusal of the government to adhere to a principle of accountability has created a deep malaise among a section of those public service. This is illustrated by the recent call by a group of French diplomats for the creation of a whistle-blowing site in France. In an open letter published in the French daily Le Monde on February 22nd, the anonymous group of serving and retired diplomatic staff, signing collectively under the name Marly, wrote about France’s policies towards the Arab states: “A French WikiLeaks would allow for the verification of whether French diplomats, like their American colleagues, wrote texts that were as critical as also free of concession.” Interviewed by Mediapart earlier this month, Yves Aubin de La Messuzière, former French ambassador to Tunisia between 2002 and 2005, called for the publication of a part of past French diplomatic correspondence on the subject of Tunisia.
Total protection of sources
The series of recent scandals involving public figures, such as the conflicts of interest of government ministers, which are the symptom of a slide in the ethical practices of State, make the arrival of new means of investigation more than ever necessary. The L’Oréal-Bettencourt scandal revealed by Mediapart investigations, and which French courts have on two occasions judged of “public interest”, has shown to what extent several essential issues for democratic life are currently called into question, including political financing, independence of the justice system, the independence of political power with regard to the business world and the equal treatment of citizens by the fiscal authorities.
FrenchLeaks is intended to further such democratic debate. There will undoubtedly be an outcry from the tiny group of political and (occasional) media conservatives who will denounce, as they did over the arrival of WikiLeaks, a ‘dictatorship’ of transparency. We are happy to leave them to further trap themselves under the dislocation of a political system that has become so deaf to the calls of society that it has abandoned the high ground to the xenophobic far-right.
FrenchLeaks is also a site of journalism. As already mentioned, we offer a guarantee of total protection of sources, beginning with an innovating, secure technical structure, built with software that includes SPIP. Mediapart technical manager Nicolas Silberman explains: “The WikiLeaks experience led us to put in place solid safeguards. They have allowed us to optimize the stability and security of this site.”
We offer future whistle-blowers a double security, both technical and deontological, with the research carried out on every document or other content, and in full respect of the rules of professional journalism, before publication. This is an imperative requirement in order that, together, we can further the freedom of, and right to, information.
Originally published at http://www.mediapart.fr/en/journal/france/100311/mediapart-launches-frenchleaks