Judge dismisses complaint by Supreme Court judge against Peruvian media outlet Ojo Público

The Directorate General for Personal Data Protection (DGPDP for its acronym in Spanish) of the Ministry of Justice dismissed Justice Javier Villa Stein’s complaint against Peruvian investigative journalism site Ojo Público for publishing a report on his financial and real estate assets.

The report from DGPDP argues that “due to public interest in information about the income of Mr. Javier Villa Stein, by virtue of his role in the Judiciary, Ojo Público and Elizabeth Salazar [author of the report ‘The Supreme Patrimony of Judge Javier Villa Stein’] were not obliged to seek consent for using the personal data of the complainant, and because he consented to a journalistic interview, there was no duty to expressly tell him that his voice was being recorded,La República reported.

Óscar Castilla, director of Ojo Público, told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas: “The strong decision of the DGPDP of the Ministry of Justice is very important for the practice of journalism in Peru, as it stresses the need for investigative journalists and of public opinion to know financial disclosures of a public official, especially if it is a judge of the Supreme Court, one of the highest offices of the State.”

The journalistic report questioned by the judge, published by Ojo Público on March 16, was made based on the sworn statements made by Villa Stein before the Comptroller General since he arrived at the Supreme Court in 2004.

However, in July, Villa Stein, who was also former head of the Judicial Branch, denounced Ojo Público before the National Authority of Personal Data, under the protection of the Law on Personal Data Protection, for publishing the sworn statements and the audio of the interview, which he expressly granted to the media.

The Ojo Público report was part of a special project “The Supreme Justices of the Million.”

In his complaint, Villa Stein asked for the “immediate blocking” of the report from Ojo Público, for providing the inexact and false information, according to Perú.21. “That the blocking and removal of the publications is in the sites as well as in other media outlets where this information has been published,” the judge said.

Castilla said that in late August and prior to the decision from the DGPDP, Ojo Público and representatives of the Peruvian Press Council held a meeting with Justice Minister Marisol Pérez Tello and her team.

In that meeting, the minister and her colleagues told them that the DGPDP would resolve Villa Stein’s complaint seeking to set a precedent in cases in which the law for personal data protection is in conflict with the law of transparency and access to information, Castilla said. “The resolution that rejects the judge’s complaint confirms it,” he added.

Villa Stein’s complaint against Ojo Público, Castilla said, marks a key moment in the journalistic treatment of personal data, in the mechanisms for collecting information using the transparency law.

“From now on, the journalists in Peru – more used to being prosecuted for cases of defamation and civil claims for damages – will have to analyze this investigative case when dealing with personal data in an investigation against public officials,” Castilla said.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.