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A Trailblazing Media Outlet Fact-Checked the Peruvian President's National Address

Peru - Presidente Ollanta Humala

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala. Photo taken from the Flickr account of the Defense Ministry of Peru under Creative Commons.

This post was originally published on the blog Globalizando.

In addition to being Peru's independence celebration, July 28 is when the country's president by constitutional mandate details his or her administration's achievements over the last year in an address to the nation. Even de facto presidents have felt obligated to make a speech or send a message of some kind, if not to Congress then to the people.

The custom was established by the “Liberator of Peru,” General José de San Martín, when he proclaimed Peru's independence on July 28, 1821, in Lima with a brief but vibrant speech that was repeated in the squares of what was then quite a small city. It was upheld more or less continuously until the early 20th century, when it became an integral—and perhaps the most important—part of the national celebrations.

Although the speech in its current form (a catalog of policies undertaken in each sector as well as achievements and future plans) puts most people to sleep, the personality of each president usually shines through with the addition of flowery language or the inclusion of striking announcements.

The current president of Peru, Ollanta Humala, isn't known for the brilliance of his official speeches, and has been strongly criticized for making mistakes every time he has had to deliver one. This year was no exception, and social network were quickly flooded with memes. Besides reporting the story, the media also published numbers, analysis and opinions of the presidential message.

But investigative media outlet Ojo-Público decided to do something rarely seen in Peruvian media—fact-check the substance of the president’s message. This is how they announced it on Twitter:

Are the numbers in the presidential message true or false?

Nelly Luna, journalist and editor for Ojo-Público, told me that the task was not exactly easy. “The whole team was focused on this verification in real-time: 13 journalists. They were split among four teams organized by subject matter and command of the area, according to the experience of the coordinating reporter.”

Los mensajes presidenciales son analizados desde siempre en los medios, pero casi siempre son contrastados con un panel de “expertos”. Es la primera vez que se hace el factchecking en tiempo real y con información oficial. En OjoPúblico hemos desarrollado una metodología, que ha contado con el apoyo de Chequeado (Argentina) que nos permite calificar las afirmaciones en cinco categorías: verdadero, falso, engañoso, discutible e insostenible.

Presidential messages have always been analyzed in the media, but they are hardly ever fact-checked by a panel of “experts.” It is the first time that fact-checking has been done in real-time and with official information. At OjoPúblico we have developed a methodology, with the support of Chequeado (Argentina) that allows us to give the statements one of five ratings: true, false, misleading, questionable and unfounded.

Below are Ojo-Público's findings:

Humala's quote: “My government has paid special attention to our native Amazonian communities. We have incorporated 274,167 people who live in the 2,400 populated centers into the general household registry so that they can benefit from all state social programs and services.”

Yellow text: The Amazonian indigenous population stood at 332,975 and 51% don't have access to health facilities. Source: Most recent census (2007) and Office of the Ombudsman (2015)

Tweet: President Humala's statement on native communities is misleading.

Humala's quote: “After four years of government management, more than 1.3 million Peruvians have risen out of poverty.”

Pink text: 2.079 million Peruvians have risen out of poverty in the last four years. Source: INEI

Tweet: President Humala's statement on the decrease in poverty is questionable.

Humala's quote: “Qaliwarma has reached every part of the country, from Tumbes to Ananea (Puno).”

Yellow text: 3.5 million children and 61,270 schools in the country are covered by the Qaliwarma program, but the constant problems with providers is preventing breakfast from arriving on time. Source: Qaliwarma data

Tweet: President Ollanta Humalla's statement on Qaliwarma data is misleading.

Humala's quote: “Come July 2016 we will reach 5,252 vehicles (purchased), which will take care of 75% of the police's vehicular deficit.”

Yellow text: In 2014, Humala reported that his management would close with more than 6,000 vehicles acquired. Source: 2014 presidential message

Tweet: President Humala's statement on the vehicle acquisition goals for the Peruvian National Police is misleading.

Humala's quote: “Today I can tell you that drug trafficking is no longer a parallel power in Vraem (Valley of the Rivers Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro).”

Yellow text: The Vraem is the biggest area of coca cultivation in Peru, with 18,845 hectares, and the only region in the country where the last faction of Shining Path has settled. Source: 2014 UN report and the Peruvian Counter-Terrorist Directorate

Tweet: President Humala's statement on the parallel power of the narcotics trade in Vraem is misleading.

Humala's quote: “We have created the Public Prosecutor's Office for Corruption Crimes, the Unit on Financial and Expert Analysis and the Unit on Information Analysis.”

Red text: These departments were created in 2012 by the Ministry of Justice during the reorganization of the Public Prosecutors Office. Source: Resolution of the Presidency of the Defense Judiciary Council of the State Nº031-2012-JUS/CDJE

Tweet: President Humala's statement on creation of public departments last year is false.

Humala's quote: “Pension 65 now takes care of half a million elderly adults.”

Yellow text: According to the Pension 65 registry, as of June 2015 the exact number of beneficiaries was 469,760. Also, the head of the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion said that at the end of this year, the program would reach the goal of half a million members. Source: Pension 65 Portal / Interview with the head of the ministry in El Peruano

Tweet: President Ollanta Humala's statement on Pension 65 is misleading.

Humala's quote: “This year, the National Institute of Health will begin bioequivalence studies on 10 generic medicines in comparison to their brand-name counterparts, which will allow access to approved generics at a lower cost.”

Red text: These studies are done before the health registry's approval is given to a medicine and doesn't imply a reduction in prices. Peru's Ministry of Health must conduct studies of 1,000 active ingredients in medicines that are already on the market. Source: Pharmaceutical chemists and doctors consulted by Ojo-Público

Tweet: President Humala's statement on the study of 10 generic medicines to lower prices is false.

Humala's quote: “During my government so far, the budget allocated for Education rose more than 70%, exceeding 22 billion soles and reaching 3.6% of GDP. A figure without precedent in the republic's history.”

Purple text: The initial 2015 budget for Education was 22.353 million soles. However, Minister Jaime Saavedra pointed out that this sum does represent 3.5% of GDP. In 1999, it also reached that same percentage. Source: Ministry of Education / CEN / World Bank

Tweet: President Humala's statement on the increased budget for Education is questionable.

Humala's quote: “Thanks to the Juntos program, more than 1.7 million citizens expectant mothers, boys and girls, adolescents and young people up to 19 years old have been able to exercise their right to health and education.”

Green text: As of June 2015, the number of beneficiaries of this program reached 1,788,738 people. Source: Unit on Information Technologies / Juntos / World Bank

Tweet: President Humala's statement on Juntos program membership is true.

Even though the initiative was popular among Peruvian Twitter users and was even trending at the time, not everyone was a fan. Some users, mainly members of the ruling political party, came out against the fact-checking results. For instance, regarding the creation of a Public Prosecutor's Office for Corruption Crimes, one user wrote:

You are lying. The 2015 speech is a summary of the proceedings, so that the creation in 2012 was part of the government’s policy.

For her part, Nelly Luna said she was satisfied with the results. “This experience allowed us to interact with the audience, receive their questions and take care of them. Colleagues have recognized the work and echoed and collected the findings in their own coverage. Obvious, the supporters of the government come out of the woodwork too, but the numbers are clear and do not lie.”

To prove this, Ojo-Público released a detailed explanatory post about the Vraem issue, on which President Humala asserted that drug trafficking is not a parallel power in that region anymore:

Los hechos que lo desmienten van desde la condición de esta región como la mayor productora de hoja de coca del Perú, la no erradicación de cultivos en la zona y la renovación del Estado de Emergencia en 48 distritos de dicha jurisdicción; hasta el caso de la mayor incautación de cocaína en el Perú (7 toneladas de droga salidas del Vraem y confiscadas en La Libertad en el 2014) y las continúas emboscadas de la facción terrorista asentada en el valle.

The facts that refute it range from the status of this region as the largest producer of coca leaf from Peru, the absence of eradication of the area's crops and the renewal of the State of Emergency in 48 districts of that jurisdiction; that's not to forget the largest seizure of cocaine in Peru (7 tons of drugs from Vraem and confiscated in La Libertad in 2014) and the continual ambushes from the terrorist faction based in the valley.

Asked if it was a one-off or if they had any intention of continuing on with the fact-checking, Luna replied:

La idea es continuar. OjoBiónico es un espacio fijo en OjoPúblico. Se seleccionan frases y datos del discurso político que sean verificables, aunque esta es la primera vez que lo hacemos en tiempo real. Elegimos la frase o dato de acuerdo a la relevancia y el interés público. Aunque salga verdadero, lo publicamos. Eso nos ocurrió hoy con el anuncio de Humala sobre el alcance del programa Juntos. Era verdadero el dato, pero a muchos no les importó. Fue el dato con menos RT. (Argumento que esto puede deberse al manejo político de la información que le dan algunos tuiteros, y responde:) Cuando caliente la campaña (presidencial) será peor. Pero los periodistas no podemos controlar el uso de la información.

The idea is to keep on. OjoBiónico is a permanent space in OjoPúblico. Phrases and data from political speeches that can be fact-checked are selected, although this is the first time that we have done it in real-time. We choose the phrase or data according to it is relevance and public interest. Even if it is true we publish it. This happened to us today with Humala's announcement of the scope of the Juntos program. The data was true, but many did not care. It was the piece of data with the fewest RT. (I argue that this could be due to the political manipulating of the information of some Twitter users, and responds:) When the (presidential) campaign heats up, it will be worse. But journalists cannot control how information is used.

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