Investigative reporting holds Peruvian government accountable
The perception of government corruption and a global decline of investigative journalism created an urgent need for an organization like IDL-Reporteros. IDL-Reporteros is a Peruvian, non-profit investigative journalism team that produces its content online in order to be more accessible to the public. Its mission according to its director is “to report, investigate, discover, and publish cases and issues affecting the rights, property, or the fate of the people.” More generally, the organization aims to utilize investigative journalism to pursue transparency and accountability even without strong state institutions. The project is funded by the Open Society Media Program (OSMP) and is a part of the Legal Defense Institute. This case study highlights the first story published by IDL-Reporteros on February 14, 2010 regarding the purchase of overpriced troop carrier vehicles by the Ministry of the Interior. The successful distribution of the report by mainstream media caused Peruvian President Alan García to order the cancellation of the transaction. Several involved officials were dismissed or punished as a result, emphasizing the power of a large audience to hold their government accountable. However, the ability of the officials to evade these consequences revealed the structural nature of corruption that journalism may not have the ability to fully remedy. The strength of IDL-Reporteros lies in its ability to command an audience of young, elites likely to be good candidates for political action and to cast a wide net for public attention because of the relevance and quality of the content. However, the organization’s reliance on one source of financing and reinforcement from the mainstream media raises questions of sustainability and independence. Remedies for such dilemmas might include the creation of an avenue for grassroots fundraising and agreements with dominant media outlets to ensure widespread publication.
Despite exceptional economic growth over the past decade, Peruvians remain deeply dissatisfied with their government and public trust in the country’s democratic institutions is one of the lowest in Latin America. Peru’s state weakness has caused ineffective governance, which has generated public discontent that has endured across successive governments and undermined citizens’ trust in the country’s democratic institutions. Specifically, weak state institutions and the suboptimal provision of basic services like education has resulted in widespread perceptions of government corruption, unfairness, ineffectiveness, and neglect that cannot be ameliorated by economic growth.[i]Not surprisingly, a 2010 study funded by the PROÉTICA organization lists the two most important problems for Peru as corruption and crime and Peruvian public opinion seems to be pessimistic regarding prospects for improvement.[ii]
This perception of rampant corruption and public distrust of the government,together with a decline of investigative journalism within the world of traditional media, necessitated the formation of the IDL-Reporteros on February 14, 2010.Structural problems like low readership, low income, entropy in newsrooms, budgetary constraints, and the actions of special interest groupsare likely to blame for the demise of investigative journalism.Traditional media also became increasingly damaging to the pursuit of investigative journalism as the abundance of unimportant information produced by such outlets overwhelmed significant matters of public interest.[iii]IDL-Reporteros is part of the global effort to rescue and strengthen investigative journalism.[iv]
IDL-Reporteros is the first investigative journalism team created in a Peruvian non-governmental organization,[v] as well as the first non-profit research initiative to exist in Peru.[vi]According to the team’s founder, Gustavo Gorriti, “The mission of IDL-Reporteros is to report, investigate, discover, and publish cases and issues affecting the rights, property, or the fate of the people.”[vii]IDL-Reporteros investigates any matter of public interest, especially regarding politics, policing, militant action, and judicial happenings.[viii]
Investigative journalism is pertinent to the formation and maintenance of democracy, especially when stymied by a high rate of corruption.Gorriti asserts that journalism should be atool made available to the citizensto oversee those in power. Historically, the result of independent journalism revealing corruption or injustice has been reform that improved rates of public trust and strengthened the rights of citizens.[ix]Similarly, IDL-Reporteros uses investigative journalism to foster transparency and accountability even with a lack of strong state institutions present in Peru.[x]
In October 2009, the Open Society Media Program (OSMP) granted the IDL-Reporterosteam $160 million with which to embark on their project. The OSMP is part of the Open Society Foundations, created in 1979 to advocate for human rights, minority rights, democracy, and the rule of law internationally. Since its founding, the Open Society Foundations have invested more than seven billion dollars in various projects all over the world. In addition to this financial support, IDL-Reporteros was materialized institutionally under the Legal Defense Institute (Instituto de Defensa Legal, IDL), but retained full editorial independence.[xi] The Legal Defense Institute is a human rights grantee of the Open Society Latin America Program. [xii]
With newfound financial security, Gustavo Gorriti, put out an open call in October 2009 for passionate journalists willing to sacrifice their time for minimal compensation for the sake of the future of investigative journalism. Gorritiserves as a solid foundation for the organization, boasting a highly awarded career in the world of investigative journalismas the author of multiple books exposing crime and terrorism as well as serving at the head of several newspapers, such as “La Prensa,” since his entry to the field in 1981. Gorriti’s expertise is mirrored in the rest of the IDL-Reporteros team, which includes Jacqueline Fowks, Paola Ugaz, Romina Mella, and Oscar Miranda, as well as a webmaster and an administrative assistant.[xiii]
The IDL-Reporterosteam monitors Peru’s political institutions and produces information in hopes of galvanizing a social revolution and ensuring improved governance of the community.[xiv]IDL-Reporterosbalance in-depth, demandingnews editorial projects with the incessant pressure to publish on a regular basis.Additionally, the IDL-Reporteros website includes a comprehensive synthesis of the daily news, which attracts users and adds political context to their work.[xv]According to an interview with Jacqueline Fowks, “each reporter works on two or three stories at once. Some of the themes require [the] additional support of a colleague, especially when there is a need to update promptly. The director monitors – very closely – the progress of each story.”[xvi]
IDL-Reporteros displays research topics and documents via a website so that they are open to public scrutiny. Jacqueline Fowks regards the Internet presence of IDL-Reporteros as important because it is a way to get in contact with young people and to provide space for concerns of the public sphere. The Internet is also the cheapest way to gain support,[xvii] as the site utilizes free web resources such as Vimeo and YouTube, and runs on WordPress.[xviii]More importantly the Internet offers an efficientmechanism for research updates, multiplies the impact of complaints, and offers direct access to the sources, such as documents leaked by Wikileaks or Bigwood files.[xix] Because there is no print version of these resources, the investigative reporting group may not reach some important segments of the population that have limited or no means of internet access, also known as the “digital divide”.[xx] When asked about the organization’s technological orientation,Gorriti explained, “Reporteros addresses an audience who doesn’t necessarily read newspapers.”[xxi]Therefore, it may be implied that the team aims to draw in young, wealthy individuals who might not otherwise be politically involved.
The Breakthrough Investigation
The specific investigation of interest for this case study is the first story published by IDL-Reporteros in February 14, 2010 regarding the purchase of overpriced troop carrier vehicles for the National Police of Peru by the Ministry of the Interior.[xxii] This investigation dates back to 2006 when the then Minister of the Interior, PilarMazzetti, contracted 50 personnel carrier trucksfrom the International Security and Defense Systems (ISDS) of Israel. However, Mazzetti was forced to give up the portfolio amid a heated controversy over other transactions by the same process. Luis Alva Castro, her successor, later refused to pay for and receive the new personnel carriers in July 2007. He asserted that there was a large premium on the agreed upon price (US $107,000) for each vehicle and the operation was canceled unilaterally despite resistance from ISDS. On December 4, 2009, Octavio Salazar as the new Minister of the Interior agreed to purchase a batch of 31 APCs (armored personnel carriers) from an Israeli company named Hatehof. In this first report, IDL-Reporteros revealed that these vehicles were almost exactly the same as those that Castro refused to buy two and a half years ago aside from minor cosmetic differences and being manufactured in 2010 as opposed to 2007. However, the vehicles were now priced at US $171,000instead of US $107,000, meaning that the trucks were costing the government almost $2 million more.[xxiii]
An expedient sign of the success of the investigation was the aid of the traditional national media in distributing the accusations of corruption by IDL-Reporteros.[xxiv] The day after the investigation was published, four television channels requested an interview with the team and the main newspapers also echoed the report almost immediately. In addition, the Congressional Oversight Commission requested the Minister of the Interior to comment on the case. [xxv]
When the case was initially revealed, officials like Samuel Torres were quick to denounce the story and defend the purchase. As the evidence mounted, Octavio Salazar tried to conceal which officials were involved and to hide an inspection reporton the Hatehof plant in Nazareth by the then director of Logistics of the Police, General Obregon, that disclosed that the APCs did not meet necessary technical specifications.[xxvi]Eventually, officials were confronted with the cancellation of the purchase if the vehicles were found not to be manufactured in the year claimed by the suppliers. In addition, prosecutors opened an official investigation on the case.[xxvii]
As a result of the allegations regarding the transaction being so highly publicized, Peruvian President Alan García ordered the cancellation of the transaction in June 2010, which had consequences for multiple head officials.[xxviii]Upon rescinding the purchase, Prime Minister Javier Valásquezaffirmed the decision was made to “avoid any suspicion about a process that must be impeccable,” seeing as there were several denouncements regarding possible fraud involved in the operation.[xxix]Shortly after the rescission was announced, Samuel Torres resigned as the Deputy Minister of the Internal Affairs. However, he would return to government as General Secretary of the Ministry of Justice. Hans Heysen, the former head of supply for the Ministry of Interior and the chairman of the special committee responsible for the purchase, continued as head of supply despite the cancellation until several months later when Minister Miguel Hidalgo decided that the Special Committee on Disciplinary Administrative Processes should investigate Heyson. After a five-month investigation, Hidalgo punishedHeysen with dismissal. Heysen subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration and in less than a month the new government ruled on his case. Minister Oscar Valdes signed a resolution that punished Heysen with “temporary cessation without pay for twelve months.” Because that time had passed during litigation, the penalty had virtually no effect.[xxx]
Evaluation and Lessons Learned
The first investigation of the IDL-Reporteros was successful in reaching a large audience capable of holding the government accountable for the accusations of corruption present in the report. The Ministry of the Interior under President Alan Garcia had serious difficulties making multiple acquisitions, of vehicles especially. It is possible that this history helped this initiatory report catch the attention of media and public officials.The role of the Internet and the mainstream media in the distribution of the complaint by IDL-Reporteros was instrumental. By captivating a large sector of the Peruvian population, the investigative journalism team was able to channel popular demand to hold politicians accountable. Thus, IDL-Reporteros has undoubtedly contributed to the refinement of the incipient democracy in Peru and its existence has addressed primary issues of concern like corruption, as identified by the PROETICA organization study.[xxxi]
Indicated by the strong public response to the team’s first investigation, the largest strength of IDL-Reporteros is likely the selection and documentation of each of its themes, as well as the quality of work produced by its contributors to support them. Gustavo Gorritimanaged to enroll some of the most prominent journalists and columnists in Peru, capturing the attention of local opinion leaders.[xxxii]The popular support for IDL-Reporteros has solidified its status as a landmark for investigative journalism, earning it a vast array of awards including the Maria Moors Cabot Prize, the New Journalism Award, and the CPJ International Freedom Award.[xxxiii]Clearly, the organization has been successful in its objective of being a resource for the public, addressing concerns that matter to them and impact their lives.
The ability of politicians to evade the consequences resulting from the success of the first investigation may present government corruption as a structural issue beyond the scope of journalistic intervention. However, the orientation of IDL-Reporteros on the Internet is a unique attempt at addressing this institutionalized issue in the long term.By distributing content via a website, the team targets youth that may not otherwise be interested in politics and hopes to instill values in these actors that will cause them to demand accountability from their officials and end the culture of corruption.[xxxiv]The team successfully targeted this demographic, as readers are mostly single white male Peruvians between 18and 24 years thatare college-educated and frequent the website during work.[xxxv]This sector of the population is relatively wealthier, more educated, and therefore, more likely to be politically active. However, whether or not the exposure of corruption will be enough to start a revolution is yet to be proven.
The reliance of IDL-Reporteros on a single source of financing, the OSMP, has triggered concerns about the sustainability and independence of the organization.The challenge for the site is that it will likely not be able to receive support from inside Peru or from large companies because of the adversarial nature of stories it produces. Seeing as the location and diversification of financial support are necessary to ensure continuation, the need is urgent. However, Latin American investigative organizations like IDL-Reporteros have a longer average lifespan than that of many local, recently premiered television stations, magazines and newspapers, despite often receiving less funding. Furthermore, these non-profit journalism organizations provide a public service that is frequently of higher quality and more critical than conventional, mainstream media sources. Finally, the betterment of government resulting from investigations such as those by the IDL-Reporteros team may be sufficient to justify the existence of the journalistic organization, even if it is only temporary.[xxxvi]
The success of investigations in stirring change in the government via popular demand is largely dependent on the complaints being reproduced by mainstream media of national scope that have access to a more captive audience.Clearly, making working connections with mainstream media should be made an urgent priority.In order to ensure that it can repeat the impact it created with the first investigation, IDL-Reporteros may want to negotiate exchange agreements with traditional media outlets, similar to that which Propublica made with the New York Times or the Center for Public Integrity.This will prohibit main news organizations from ignoring the stories produced by IDL-Reporterosor reproducing them without granting the proper acknowledgement or credit to the organization, which has been a common issue for investigative journalism organizations in Latin America.Although forming these relationshipsmay be difficult for multiple commercial and ethical reasons, it is vital for creating a significant impact worthy of continuation and therefore, sustaining democratic journalism as an alternative to the commercially funded press.[xxxvii]
The success of the IDL-Reporteros website demonstrates that the Internet can be an efficient tool to distribute information and reach valuable sectors of the electorate. IDL-Reporteros could take more advantage of its digital orientation and attract more readers via the inclusion of more visual material, infographics, photos, and videos. In addition, the team could design the website and its content to cater more to the youth demographic they are looking to target, perhaps via the inclusion of a youth team member for example. Finally, the website could expand its capacities into the realm of a news-based social media. By providing like-minded young individuals with a mechanism to connect with one another, the website might spur the sort of collective action necessary to fuel a political revolution against corruption.
IDL-Reporteros prioritizes the diversification of its financial support because of related sustainability concerns. Because IDL-Reporterosis not likely to receive funding from inside Peru or large corporations, it might benefit the organization to experiment with grassroots fundraising. Since the organization is completely based online, it would make the most sense to create a way to contribute through the website. Alternatively, the addition of an administrative manager, who is designated to focus on fundraising and marketing strategies, may allow the organization to diversify its income sources. [xxxviii]
Despite the global decline in investigative journalism and limited funding, IDL-Reporterosachieved initial success in holding officials accountable for the purchase of overpriced military vehicles. The organization was largely successful because of its presence on the Internet, however the team must now be cautious to continually evolve as needed to stay relevant in the digital world as well as to the youth population they desire to target. Objectives involving the eradication of corruption will require IDL-Reporteros to remain creative and diligent as it battles a structural issue with long-term strategy for the betterment of Peru.
Conte, Francesco. "Investigative Journalism According to Gustavo Gorriti: “Never Allow Fear to Become an Editor”." Magazine. May 26, 2011. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://ejc.net/magazine/article/investigative-journalism-according-to-gustavo-gorriti-never-allow-fear-to-b#.WD4_SaIrKuW.
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Guerra, Isabel. "Peru: Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Resigns." Latest News in Peru Archive. May 27, 2010. Accessed November 26, 2016. http://archive.peruthisweek.com/news-12296-politics-peru-deputy-minister-internal-affairs-resigns.
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[i]Levitsky, "First Take: Paradoxes of Peruvian Democracy."
[ii]Requejo-Alemán, "Periodismo de Investigación sin ánimo de lucro en el Perú,” 148-149.
[iv]Gorriti, "Columna De Reporteros."
[v]"Investigative Journalists Take on Peruvian Corruption."
[vi]Requejo-Alemán, "Periodismo de Investigación sin ánimo de lucro en el Perú,” 147.
[vii]Gorriti, "Columna De Reporteros."
[viii]Requejo-Alemán, "Periodismo de Investigación sin ánimo de lucro en el Perú,” 155.
[ix]Gorriti, "Columna De Reporteros."
[x]"Investigative Journalists Take on Peruvian Corruption."
[xi]Requejo-Alemán, "Periodismo de Investigación sin ánimo de lucro en el Perú,” 152.
[xii]"Investigative Journalists Take on Peruvian Corruption."
[xiii]Requejo-Alemán, "Periodismo de Investigación sin ánimo de lucro en el Perú,” 152.
[xv]Requejo-Alemán, Luis, and Lugo-Ocando, "Assessing the Sustainability of Latin American Investigative Non-profit Journalism," 525.
[xvi]Gamela, "Reporting for an Ideal: IDL-Reporteros, Investigative Journalism in Peru."
[xvii]Requejo-Alemán, "Periodismo de Investigación sin ánimo de lucro en el Perú,” 157-158.
[xviii]Hermida, "Is Nonprofit Journalism Sustainable?"
[xix]Requejo-Alemán, "Periodismo de Investigación sin ánimo de lucro en el Perú,” 157-158.
[xx]Requejo-Alemán, Luis, and Lugo-Ocando, "Assessing the Sustainability of Latin American Investigative Non-profit Journalism," 525.
[xxi]Conte, "Investigative Journalism According to Gustavo Gorriti: “Never Allow Fear to Become an Editor”."
[xxii]Requejo-Alemán, "Periodismo de Investigación sin ánimo de lucro en el Perú,” 156.
[xxiv]"Investigative Journalists Take on Peruvian Corruption."
[xxv]Fowks, "IDL-Reporteros, a Contribution to Investigative Journalism."
[xxvi]Mella, "Reciclaje De Funcionarios (y Camiones)."
[xxvii]Fowks, "IDL-Reporteros, a Contribution to Investigative Journalism."
[xxviii]Requejo-Alemán, "Periodismo de Investigación sin ánimo de lucro en el Perú,” 156.
[xxix]Guerra, "Peru: Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Resigns."
[xxx]Mella, "Reciclaje De Funcionarios (y Camiones)."
[xxxi]Fowks, "IDL-Reporteros, a Contribution to Investigative Journalism."
[xxxii]Requejo-Alemán, "Periodismo de Investigación sin ánimo de lucro en el Perú,” 159.
[xxxiii]Conte, "Investigative Journalism According to Gustavo Gorriti: “Never Allow Fear to Become an Editor”."
[xxxiv]Fowks, "IDL-Reporteros, a Contribution to Investigative Journalism."
[xxxv]Requejo-Alemán, Luis, and Lugo-Ocando, "Assessing the Sustainability of Latin American Investigative Non-profit Journalism," 527.
[xxxviii] Ibid, 527.