Crime-Fighting Website Gets Prime Time Attention in Panama

Nov 32011

A woman is crossing a pedestrian bridge. It is late at night in San Miguelito, a popular but unsafe neighborhood in Panama. Two billboards serve as walls for the bridge creating a tunnel effect and obstructing the view.

The woman is unable to see that two purported members of a local gang are climbing up the bridge. Suddenly, they confront her, steal her purse and run.

A voice over says: “Report crime and corruption. Enter mipanamatransparente.com or send a text message to 5638. Report it!” The number 5638 is the short code of mipanamatransparente.com, a crowdsourcing website created through this fellowship that tracks information from citizens about crime and corruption.

Guido Rodríguez, president of Forum of Journalists of Panama, unveils the new PSA campaign at a press conference.

This incident, which actually was reported to the website by a citizen, is a dramatization that serves as the first in a series of public service announcements (PSA's) promoting the website and encouraging citizen participation to report crime and corruption. Watch it in Spanish here. A second PSA depicts violent crime, and a third re-enacts corruption. All of them encourage viewers to report both crime and corruption to Mi Panama Transparente.

From September 21 to October 25, the campaign prompted 35 citizen reports, most of them about corruption.

The website was created as an initiative of the International Center for Journalists and is run by the Forum of Journalists of Panama, an organization that promotes freedom of expression and access to public information. The website is a unique experience in Latin America where citizens and journalists are working together to fight crime and reduce corruption.

The PSA campaign was launched this September 21 in Panama City with a press conference by the Forum of Journalists and the Panama Chapter of Transparency International. Three PSA's for TV are being broadcasted by the two major Panama TV networks: TVN and Medcom. One PSA for radio is also being broadcasted by KW Continente.

Since September 21, the website have had 292 new unique visitors, 720 visits, and 1,616 page views.

Some correspondents who were trained as a part of the Mi Panama Transparente program are also broadcasting the PSA on their radio shows. Elena Valdez, TVN correspondent in the Cocle province, is using the PSA in her Saturday radio news program airing on Radio Poderosa. Raul Lopez, La Estrella correspondent in Chiriqui, at the Panama – Costa Rica border, is also broadcasting the PSA on El Faro de David radio station. Luis Gabarrete is broadcasting the PSA during his radio show reaching a large audience in the Panama -- Costa Rica border in Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro provinces.

The website experienced a net increase of unique visitors and page visits. We hope this PSA campaign serves as a way to encourage more citizens to send reports and more journalists to write stories about them.

Editor's note: Jorge Luis Sierra is a Knight International Journalism Fellow currently working in Panama and Mexico to develop a mapping system to help journalists and citizens track crime and corruption.