Whether you are living in the picturesque city of Halifax or the worldly city of Toronto, you probably have had a glimpse at the proliferation of information coming from sources such as the WikiLeaks. This organization has leaked information on the most powerful governments on Earth and pushed for the transparency of world institutions and famous personalities. Is WikiLeaks and its parent websites replacing the role of traditional media and becoming the new democracy watchdog?
Closer to home, a few months ago QuébecLeaks was created to make available confidential documentation from Quebec's governments, institutions and influential personalities. Since then,
QuebecLeaks has published the contract for the city of Quebec's amphitheatre, a political debate which lead to the three Parti Québécois deputies resigning due in part to disagreements on how to tackle the issue within the party. This document was already public, though.
The Québec website has also leaked an entente between the newspaper La Presse and broadcaster Radio-Canada to join synergies in order to have a greater impact on the media environment it cover. Since the QuébecLeaks' creation in early 2011, there has only been two big documents leaked on the young website.
There is an important issue here that might explain the low level of participation to QuébecLeaks. How will leakers remain and retain their confidentiality? Should leakers be accountable and transparent, too? There has been scandal after scandal in Quebec politics over the past year and there is probably no shortage of leaks to publish on the website.
Yet, QuébecLeaks has not published a substantial amount of leaks as the famous WikiLeaks did in the last year. However, they suggest that this will help government, institutions and celebrities to be more transparent and accountable even though documents are not leaked. At the very least, they are alive and organized to do it if a leak is new and deemed necessary to put forward in the public.
The leaks seem to have never really been meant to replace journalism and traditional media. In his book WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency, Micah L. Sifry argues that Wikileaks is a symptom indicating our struggle between older and closed systems with the new open culture of the Internet. QuébecLeaks has thus become another way to gather newsworthy information that ought to be open to the public.
QuébecLeaks is one of the new watchdogs of provincial democracy. Watchdogs are there to watch. If nothing is leaked, maybe it means that they are doing their job well. Maybe it also means that they have to work harder and not stay at the fence. The question of confidentiality of leakers still remain an important deterrent of participation. But was it not always the case even in traditional media? For example, the infamous Deep Throat collaboration that helped topple the Nixon administration in the mid-1970s was faced with a similar challenge. Deep Throat's identity was kept secret for decades.
Today, traditional news organizations and watchdogs are in the same basket: the Internet basket. This basket has no boundaries and it is our role to be proactive in it. The new and more traditional organizations face similar challenges as the new ones. Instead of fighting against one another, perhaps that we can join forces and find ways to create a safe environment for sources to speak up, whether it is through leaks or through the traditional news-gathering channel -- or a new hybrid of the two.
Follow Valerie Belair-Gagnon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@valeriebgagnon