A single conversation between two people willing to change the culture of corruption made way for a platform that allowed Mexican citizens to expose harrowing truths.
by Portia Ladrido
In June 2014, Benjamin Cokelet, executive director of Project on Organization, Development, Education and Research (PODER) teamed up with Leon Willems, a member of Free Press Unlimited (FPU), a Dutch foundation working for freedom of the press, to launch Méxicoleaks.
The core purpose of the platform is to allow citizens to leak information of public interest that would then be checked and investigated for validity before being published by independent organisations. Because of their ingenuity, Méxicoleaks was selected by a judging panel as part of Nominet Trust’s – the UK’s leading tech-for-good funder – 2016 NT100 program, which showcased the Mexican startup as one of the world’s most inspiring examples of digital technology driving social good.
The NT100 program highlights 100 global tech-for-good projects, including Méxicoleaks, and creates a platform for other innovators and NGOs to share knowledge, experiences, and skills that would utilise technology as a tool for change.
INKLINE talks to Claudia Ocaranza, data and investigative journalist from PODER and a Méxicoleaks member, to know more about how the platform is changing the sociopolitical landscape in Mexico.
INKLINE: What was the defining moment that sparked the launching of Méxicoleaks?
Claudia Ocaranza: Méxicoleaks was born in a troubled political and social context in the country. It was more obvious every time that the power spheres, both private and public, moved beyond laws and were not held accountable for anything they did.
In 2012, Mexico changed the administration by taking back the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the ruling party from 1929 to 2000, and its candidate Enrique Peña Nieto as the new President of Mexico. Soon later, cases of corruption, fraud, and violence against journalists came to light. It was time to give citizens a secure space to be protected sources and as well as to give journalists tips to follow and stories to investigate.
I: Was there a prevailing problem in the Mexican system that made you feel the need for this platform?
C: In Mexico, the corruption – in all of its forms – has penetrated to almost every public and private system. Most of the time, people working inside these offices are aware of corruption, but currently, there is not an effective way to denounce it. Therefore, Méxicoleaks aims to be a solution for people to report cases of corruption, abuse of power or privilege inside their workplace or context, so long as they are brave enough to get material proofs and send them through the platform.
The ultimate goal of Méxicoleaks is to help in building the strongest and greatest democracy in Mexico.
I: How was the whole process of building this, especially knowing that it is heavy on security and technology combined?
C: The technology behind Méxicoleaks is provided by Globaleaks, an organisation that promotes open-source free software to enable secure and anonymous whistleblowing. The Associated Whistleblowing Press helped us with all the installation and gave us some digital security trainings.
I: How did you team up with your media partners?
C: FPU was responsible for putting the team together. FPU got a list of potential partners (journalists or media who were critical with the system) from Daniela Pastrana, executive director of Pie de Página, an independent journalistic portal made up of journalists specialising in social and human rights issues.
The partners are all comprised of people, media and organisations that promote a free press to strengthen the democracy. For now, we are not planning to add more partners.
I: Méxicoleaks can be quite a controversial platform. How do you make sure that every whistleblower is telling the truth?
C: We acknowledge the bravery in every whistleblower. It is not easy to be a whistleblower in a country like Mexico, which lacks a legislation to protect them. The law doesn’t even recognise this figure as a source of information. Therefore, Méxicoleaks is essential to protect whistleblowers by their anonymity – not even us know who they are. However, we do not take for granted that every leak we receive is true.
We have a well-proven methodology, although every case is different, to check whether what the leak claims is true or not. Usually, we go through every leak and decide if it is of public matter. If we can do more research, every member is assigned different tasks and we have meetings to talk about what we found out and what will be the nut graph of the story. We compile every document from the leak and those we get by our own. Then every media or NGO is free to write the story with its own editorial approach. We agree a date and time to publish each partner in its media or platform.
It is important to tell that the leaks have more chances to be investigated if they have official documents or evidence that it is true. For example, we rarely can investigate on something we receive in a Word document if official documents are not attached.
I: Do you have any concerns or worries or fears when it comes to Méxicoleaks? What are these? What inspires you to keep doing what you’re doing despite the challenges that may come with this?
C: We believe we are not free of risks, but that is why we take precautions regarding digital security. We are always worried about improving the security in our communications (among us and with the whistleblowers).
We are aware that personal security is also an issue, but we try to be cautious and most importantly, we do not publish anything if we are not 100% sure that it is true and that we can prove it.
What inspires us is when we accomplish something more than just publishing. It is inspiring to see that because of what we publish, a construction that was going to damage the environment and communities can be stopped or a corrupt official resigns or has to explain his or her actions, or even how the leaks increase every time we publish something important. It is a proof that we are reliable for the whistleblowers and the readers.
I: Do you have any plans of taking this internationally? Why do you think that this is a cause that could globally help communities?
C: Actually, Méxicoleaks through PODER is helping other countries to create their own leaking platforms, such as Argentina or Chile. Peruleaks is already running tests and the idea is to create a CentralAmericaLeaks.
We believe that the leaking platforms are a powerful tool to empower citizens to be a source of information without risking their lives, as it usually happens in our countries. With the whistleblowers’ help, we can discover not only good stories, but stories that can change the point of view of the governments regarding a whistleblower and the leaking culture in a democratic process.
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.