Defense of the journalistic investigation can be more complex than the investigation itself, says journalist Gustavo Gorriti

"To do investigative journalism in Latin America and in other parts of the world has two parts: the first part is about the investigation itself with all its great challenges and the second part, which is not talked about much, is the defense of the investigation, and that is almost as complex or sometimes more than the investigation itself," Peruvian investigative journalist Gustavo Gorriti told the Knight Center.

Peruvian journalist Gustavo Gorriti. (Screenshot)

With these words, the journalist addressed the work he has carried out to defend his journalistic investigation after former President Alan García attacked him and his team at IDL-Reporteros on social media, and after one of Gorriti’s videos was temporarily taken down by Facebook.

According to Gorriti, he and his journalistic team decided to broadcast a clarification via Facebook Live to combat the "intense campaign" of misinformation and attacks that García, and allegedly his followers, have been carrying out in recent weeks against their journalistic investigation into the Lava Jato corruption scandal.

García is among those being investigated in the Lava Jato case, one of the biggest scandals of corporate corruption and of officials at the international level, that involves the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. More than one former president and businessman from Latin America has gone to jail in recent years as a result of this investigation.

"As at a certain moment he (García) has come to the conclusion that the central part of the investigation that has now reached him is the product of the investigative efforts of IDL-Reporteros, he concentrated his attacks on IDL-Reporteros and its director, that is, on me," Gorriti said.

This campaign allegedly began, according to Gorriti, after IDL-R published the story "Alan García y la Caja 2" on Nov. 15 of last year. On that same date, the prosecution for the Lava Jato case took action and requested the former president be blocked from leaving the country for 18 months. García took refuge in the Uruguayan embassy in Lima, seeking diplomatic asylum, which was denied days later.

The report by IDL-Reporteros argued, based on official documentation, email messages and receipts signed by García, that the former president allegedly received a payment of US $100,000 from Caja 2 of Odebrecht, the clandestine division of the Brazilian company, for a lecture he gave on May 25, 2012 to entrepreneurs in São Paulo, Brazil.

Since its publication, García has uttered numerous insults against Gorriti and his site in interviews in the media and on his social networks. This series of attacks intensified during the first days of March after IDL-R published reports regarding new statements by senior Odebrecht officials obtained by Peruvian prosecutors in Brazil last February.

On March 7, García said via Twitter: "Gorriti, the Toledo supporter who introduced the foreign mafia of Maiman, Danon, Shavit and others, believes that he can project on me the filth of his soul. The thief believes everybody is like him."

Israeli businessmen Josef Maiman, ‘Avi’ Dan On and Gil Shavit had dealings with the government of Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006). Before becoming president, Toledo led, together with journalists like Gorriti and other civil society leaders, the fight against electoral fraud in 2000 that contributed to ending the regime of President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) in his second attempt at re-election.

To this, Gorriti, who is Jewish, replied with the editorial "Respuesta a un Canalla" (Response to a Villain). Later, after Garcia said the same in an interview with Trome, Gorriti responded with the editorial "El Antisemita" (antiSemite).

Despite the insults on Twitter and Facebook, there has been no direct communication from Alan García with Gorriti or his reporters so far, according to the journalist.

"He is very used to bullying and has almost always succeeded," Gorriti said, ruling out the possibility of denouncing him for defamation. "They advised me to file a defamation complaint, but I resolved, given the possibility that he might later place himself as the victim, that it’s better I continue with the investigation and respond to the insults. The diatribe after all is an art and more than one can play at that," he added.

Cover of IDL Reporteros' report. (Screenshot)

In addition to the social networks, the journalist alleged that García is behind the new weekly Presente, whose editions are dedicated to discrediting him, his journalistic website and the judges of the Lava Jato case. Gorriti compared the weekly with the "chicha" press that was at the service of Vladimiro Montesinos, former de facto head of the National Intelligence Service during the authoritarian government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), to attack his opponents.

The Knight Center attempted to contact García, but did not receive a reply as of publication time.

And so, on March 15, Gorriti and his team decided to explain their version of events on Facebook. However the video – which Facebook restored days later – initially was taken down by the social network’s algorithms.

Gorriti said that immediately after the blocking on Facebook, they began to broadcast from the IDL-R account on YouTube. "That broadcast managed to come out completely, [though] under a constant and massive attack from [Garcia's] trolls," he added.

Journalists from IDL-R unsuccessfully tried to report the incident to Facebook.

The investigative area of the Peruvian organization Hiperderecho, defender of digital freedom, helped IDL-R contact the offices of the social network for the Andean area. According to IDL-R, the regional office of Facebook confirmed that the video was taken down due to numerous complaints of spam against the video by Facebook users whose profiles they would not name.

"Facebook has backed down [by restoring the content], it is telling its version of how the events occurred and has promised that it will not happen again, that they will have us as a publication that they call ‘vulnerable’ to these types of attacks," Gorriti said. Moving forward, a human will evaluate the case instead of an algorithm, he added.

The Knight Center tried to contact Facebook representatives for the Andean area, but did not receive a response as of publication.

Both CPJ  and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Edison Lanza, showed solidarity on Twitter toward Gorriti and IDL-R regarding the insults received and the blocking on Facebook Live.

Three days after the blocking of the IDL-R video on Facebook, José Domingo Pérez, one of the prosecutors in the Lava Jato case in Peru, was assaulted by a mob upon leaving the Santa Monica women's prison, El Comercio reported. Pérez had gone to interrogate the two-time presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, who is being held in pre-trial detention for allegedly receiving money from Odebrecht for her candidacy.

"The environment has become much more volatile, much more tense, there has been digital violence and there are possibilities for things to continue because obviously, the last thing we are going to do is stop the investigation. On the contrary, we are going to accelerate it, to the extent possible," Gorriti said.