Peruvian investigative journalism site launches initiative to promote use of transparency law among journalism students

In its two years of existence, Peruvian site Convoca has produced investigative reports based on the law of transparency and access to information that were internationally awarded and even motivated a legislative change in Peru. Now, Convoca will use its expertise to help train the next generations of investigative journalists who will monitor those in power in the country.

At the end of August, the investigative journalism site launched the #ComunidadReporta initiative to encourage journalism students to use the country’s law of transparency and access to information, which has been in effect since 2003.

The goal is to "unite professional journalists and journalism students to promote the use of the law of transparency in classrooms for the purpose of accessing public information to produce reports, databases and journalistic applications about important topics in Peru," Aramís Castro, coordinator of the initiative, told the Knight Center.

The initiative arose from Convoca’s experience with the the law in its investigative reports. Castro cited the special report "Excesses without punishment," which was based on about 200 requests for information to more than 20 public institutions to reveal the environmental behavior of the extractive industries in Peru.

Milagros Salazar, director of Convoca, told the Knight Center that the report published at the end of 2015 revealed the social and economic impact of article 19 of law 30.230, which the government of former president Ollanta Humala relied on to forgive more than 30 million of soles (about US $ 9 million) in fines for mining infractions.

"Months later, Congress repealed this controversial article based on Convoca's findings. This demonstrates that with perseverance, methodology and teamwork, the law can be an effective tool for journalists and students to contribute to making changes and improving public policies."

According to Castro, although the law of transparency and access to information has been in effect for 14 years in Peru, "its use in the journalistic field has not been constant." Through the experience of Convoca and the knowledge of the impact that such reports can have on public life in the country, "we decided to invite teachers who also practice or have practiced journalism to promote the use of the law of transparency from their classrooms," he explained.

In this first phase, seven universities from Lima were invited. Their professors and students will participate in workshops offered by Convoca on the law of transparency and its use in journalistic projects. The #ComunidadReporta participants will also have the support of the members of the initiative's advisory council, made up of Peruvian and foreign journalists and professors, among them Rosental Alves, director of the Knight Center and professor of the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

According to Salazar, #ComunidadReporta will soon be extended to universities in other regions of Peru and other Latin American countries. "The proposal is to develop networking, accessing information to tell stories of high public interest," she said. An annual report will also be prepared to measure how state institutions are fulfilling information requests and to systematize knowledge gained through the initiative.

“In order for the law to contribute to people's lives, it must be used and perfected based on experience and concrete cases. Journalism is fundamental for the authorities to be accountable, but also for there to be effective transparency to provide access to reliable information that will serve citizens in decision-making," Salazar 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.