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Investigative journalism according to Gustavo Gorriti: “Never allow fear to become an editor”

Since journalist Gustavo Gorriti was kidnapped by the Peruvian government, he has seen journalism take justice to new levels. Yet he warns “I am afraid we’re now facing times that are by no means less corrupt, and the threats for

by Francesco Conte On May 27, 2011

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He is known for bringing Peruvian news to the world. He has made his country famous for experimental investigative journalism through the non-profit web platform Idl Reporteros, which he co-founded in 2009.

Born in Lima in 1948, Gustavo Gorriti is a Nieman fellow at Harvard University since 1986 and has been awarded more prizes than probably any other Peruvian journalist. He is living proof that even when reporting from the periphery of the globe, one can still make it big as a journalist.

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Fighting against “the betrayal of Peruvian democracy”

Gorriti internationally rose to fame when he was kidnapped for two days following a coup d’état in 1992, which was perpetrated by the then President of Peru, Alberto Fujimori. The event took place during the so-called Peruvian constitutional crisis, when Fujimori dissolved the National Congress and assumed full legislative power.

Gorriti was arrested by Peruvian intelligence agents only hours after the coup and “disappeared” for two days until Fujimori was finally forced under US pressure to acknowledge Gorriti’s detention and release him.

Gorriti’s main investigations had actually targeted Fujimori’s strong man, “narco-lawyer, traitor, human rights violator, former soldier, spy” Vladimiro Montesinos.

Gorriti believes that “the betrayal of Peruvian democracy,” as he calls it, is about to take place again on June 5th, with former army officer Ollanta Humala competing against Alberto Fujimori’s daughter Keiko in the final act of the presidential elections.

Humala led an unsuccessful coup in 2000 against Fujimori’s government, resulting in Fujimori’s impeachment and fleeing into exile until 2007. Fujimori was two years later convicted of human rights violations and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The verdict marked the first time that an elected head of state was extradited back to his home country, tried and convicted. Fujimori was specifically found guilty of murder, bodily harm, and two cases of kidnapping, including that of Gorriti. “With Humala we have doubts,” says Gustavo Gorriti, “with Fujimori we are certain there will be corruption.”

Ms Fujimori’s reputation is heavily marked by her father’s criminal record, as she has always been politically linked to and supported by him.

Having pleaded guilty for bribing the chief security information officer, Alberto Fujimori is a questionable presidential ticket for his daughter.

If elected, Keiko Fujimori would become the first female president of Peru.

In spite of the controversies revolving around her father, Ms Fujimori was elected to Congress in 2006 and can still count on her father’s protection.

If the former president’s daughter and protégée takes the lead of Peruvian politics, the same system of corruption will be put back into practice, argues Gorriti, whose investigations in political matters also caused him some troubles in Panama, where he worked as deputy director for the leading newspaper “La Prensa” until 2001.

Despite his adventurous reporter ‘s life, however, Gustavo Gorriti is more of an academic than a “last frontier” journalist, and he admits to “preferring to hire people who come out of University and who are specialised in a subject, rather than professional journalists.”

“You should have both an intuitive and logical grasp,” he explains. “I like academics because they are trained to think, they have a passion for reading, curiosity, and a good discipline in writing.”

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Gustavo Gorriti’s investigative journalism online platform Idl Reporteros

Idl Reporteros

Gorriti says that his Idl Reporteros initiative relies entirely on foundation grants. “Right now we work with four full time journalists and five to six collaborators. This is a non-profit organisation, we have to run on a very tight budget.”

Idl Reporteros has nevertheless managed to become a landmark for investigative journalism, obtaining some of the most engaging journalism prizes on the American continent, such as the Maria Moors Cabot Prize, the New Journalism Award by the Ibero American New Journalism Foundation, and the CPJ International Freedom Award, to name but a few.

“Reporteros addresses an audience who doesn’t necessarily read newspapers,” Gorriti explains. “Certainly the internet doesn’t reach as many people as TV does, but I think it is growing faster than print journalism. We hope that the people will be more informed on the decisions they make and how important they are for the future of democracy in Peru.”

Gustavo Gorriti is often described as a hero in his home country and several bloggers even compare him to a sort of Chuck Norris who can never get it wrong.

In an interview with Newshour in 1998, Gorriti warned however against the evolution of journalism into a show: “Latin American journalists of my generation who are heavily engaged in investigative reporting were strongly influenced by the good investigative reporting of the 1960s and 1970s, of the Watergate era especially,” he said. “To see the evolution, or shall we say the involution of this great journalistic tradition, getting totally bogged down in triviality, losing perspective of what the business of news is about and degenerating into show business, is somehow depressing.”

“You must never allow fear to become an editor,” he wrote last October in his acceptance speech for the New Journalism Award.

“Since my first report about the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and the mysterious Peruvian Maoist guerrilla in the 1980s, I have often wondered if my job was worth the risks it involves, especially for my wife and children. Yet,” Gorriti added, “now I can acknowledge that some things did change in the last 30 years.”

“Presidents ending up in jail, crimes being exposed to the public and punished in court, gangsters’ activities finally being revealed and denounced.”

“Despite this,” Gorriti warns, “I am afraid we’re now facing times that are by no means less corrupt and the threats for the common people and for journalists are ever growing.”

This article was originally published on European Journalism Centre
Photo Credits: FlickR CC karen horton; European Journalism Centre

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