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Méxicoleaks: A new online platform for whistleblowers

Mexican journalists recently launched their country’s own version of Wikileaks, a potential game changer for reporting in one of the world’s most dangerous media environments.

Méxicoleaks is a whistleblowers’ online platform that is meant to make it easier for Mexicans to leak information about corruption and drug cartels.

We have reached out to Jo Tuckman, author of “Mexico: Democracy Interrupted” and The Guardian´s veteran Mexico correspondent, to understand the potential and limitations of Méxicoleaks.

 

Méxicoleaks seems to be inspired by Julian Assange’s Wikileaks. What would you say is the main difference between the two sites?

The main difference consists in the origin and the type of information. The main source of the information in Wikileaks is the US State Department. The whistle blowers are people with access to documents primarily written by representatives of the State Department in the US and around the world ­­­– meaning written records of someone’s analysis.

Méxicoleaks aims at Mexican civilians­­­­ – mainly bureaucrats who work for the government or people at private organizations, and thus have access to documents that can prove wrongdoing.

 

Almost a decade after the explosion of drug violence, how would you characterize the state of investigative journalism and freedom of speech in Mexico?

The risks to life and limb for those journalists who dare to publish delicate information about criminal organizations or corrupt local authorities are real. The most recent report of (NGO) Article 19 indicates a fall in the number of murders, but a rise in the number of other forms of attacks, most of them by the authorities.

Free speech has new tools already, particularly in social media and in some media outlets, because they are much more difficult to control. A good example was the Consumer Prosecutor (a close collaborator of (President) Peña Nieto) being fired after his daughter had a tantrum at a restaurant when she didn't get the table she asked for, and then tried to use her influence to close down the place. The mainstream media picked up the outrage that other diners expressed on social media.

 

It's very early days but how potentially significant, if at all, is Mexicoleaks for journalism in Mexico?

It's very hard to tell. Méxicoleaks has the potential to be very significant. The idea of a whistleblower as a citizen with a conscience is almost non-existent. It would be incredible if Méxicoleaks encouraged this to happen, because there are many stories of abuse of power that rely on hearsay and speculation rather than solid investigations. 

There is a long tradition of government leaks to the press in Mexico. More often than not, however, they seem to be associated with a deal between some high official and a reporter or editor and there is usually some obvious political objective behind it.

It could also be entirely irrelevant. There are certainly plenty of public servants who are uncomfortable with some of the things that happen, but that does not mean they would be willing to take risks to expose them.

While Méxicoleaks is a lot more secure than uploading stuff onto social media through an anonymous address, it is hard not to recall the Mexican bloggers and journalists who have been killed in brutal ways.  It is not clear whether the platform has done enough to guarantee the whistleblowers’ anonymity.

We will have a much better idea of the potential of the new tool after the first investigations emerge. If any of these lead to the outing of the source, then the whole thing could come crashing down.

 

Will there be a downside to using Méxicoleaks in journalism?

Not being able to contact the whistleblower is a huge weakness. As a journalist I always want to know who my sources are and how they obtained the documents on which I base my reports.

At Méxicoleaks not only is all the information anonymous, and you don’t know the name of the source you are protecting, but also it is only available to a small group of media outlets.

 

Could Méxicoleaks become a game changer for journalism in Mexico?

Méxicoleaks could be a major step forward in providing journalistic investigations based on documentation of abuses. If the technology were indeed secure, it would begin to change the game in Mexico by forcing more transparency and opening the possibility of greater accountability.

 

In your 2012 book Mexico: Democracy Interrupted you outlined the shortcomings of the country's politicians and political institutions, but you also found some reasons for optimism. Have you grown more optimistic or pessimistic about Mexico?

I am more pessimistic now. When I wrote the book I tried to identify and highlight the kind of citizen actions that, I hoped, would one day grow into the kind of critical mass necessary to force real democratizing change on a corroded political class and economic elite.

The outrage unleashed by the disappearance of the students from Ayotzinapa last September looked, for a while, like it might just be able to develop into that kind of movement. While the outrage has not gone away, it is festering in a not particularly productive way. Instead there is ample evidence that the political class has taken the cue to reaffirm the cross-party impunity pact that keeps real reform at bay.

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Ligimat Perez

Bilingual freelance journalist based in Los Angeles following a career in journalism in Latin America for CNN, Venevision and the United Nations.

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