Brazil: aggressions, threats and vandalism against journalists and media

Assaults on journalists and media outlets occurred on April 5 in Brasília and São Paulo during the coverage of the aftermath of the the conviction of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Report to the IAPA Midyear Meeting

The climate for journalism in Brazil continues to be a cause of concern. Two journalists have been killed in the past six months for reasons related to their work.

The National Newspaper Association (ANJ), in conjunction with the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Stations (ABERT), has also recorded 25 assaults, 7 threats, and 2 acts of vandalism against news organizations in the same period.

Jefferson Pureza Lopes, a radio journalist and host of the program "Voz do Povo" [Voice of the People] on Rádio Beira Rio FM in Edealina, state of Goiás, was shot and killed at his home on January 18. Lopes frequently denounced irregularities in his city and had been receiving death threats for years. Before he was killed, his home and the station where he worked had been set on fire.

Ueliton Bayer Brizon, owner and operator of the online news site Jornal de Rondônia in Cacoal, state of Rondônia, was shot and killed while riding a motorcycle on a city street. Brizon often denounced local politicians on his site. He would post news items on local politics on his website. He was also the municipal chairman of the PHS party and an alternate city councilman.

The decline in reports of nonlethal violence—from 172 incidents in 2016 to 82 in 2017—is directly related to the decrease in public protests, which often resulted in violence from police and demonstrators. It is not the result of a greater understanding among the public or police on the importance of the press. Unfortunately, intolerance for journalism continues to persist. Insults and acts of intimidation directed at journalists—not only in person, but online now as well—are taking on new forms and placing journalists at risk. The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI) said that "politicians and self-described nonpartisan movements use social media to preach hate against journalists to millions of followers."

Also noteworthy are the lawsuits brought against media professionals and outlets, especially the coordinated legal actions that verge on judicial harassment. One of these cases in the past six months involved TV Pampa, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, which, without having presented a defense, was ordered to pay a large sum to each of the 40 plaintiffs as a result of an opinion expressed by an interviewee on a live program.

Everyone has the right to resort to the justice system, but these coordinated and concerted lawsuits are aimed at generating a surge in court cases with the evident intent of intimidating journalists.

In 2017, the Commission on the Right to Communication and Freedom of Expression, which is part of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH) of the former Ministry of Citizenship, formed a task force to discuss ways to implement the Observatory of Violence Against Journalists, an entity proposed since 2013-2014. The task force includes organizations such as Article 19, the Journalists Union of São Paulo, ABRAJI, the National Federation of Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders. The task force plans to develop a standard operating procedure for police action in cases involving violence against journalists. Neither the observatory nor the protocol for police operations has been implemented yet.

Other cases:

In February 2018, journalist Maíra Azevedo of Bahia state was threatened after denouncing a racist comment posted on her Instagram page. Azevedo filed a complaint with the antiracism unit of the Bahia public prosecutor's office.

In February 2018, Supreme Court justice Gilmar Mendes stated at a public event that censorship would be acceptable "in cases [of abuse by the press]," which could pave the way for restrictions on freedom of information. It should be recalled that in its ruling on Unconstitutionality Claim 130 (in which it found the Press Act to be unconstitutional), the Supreme Court—then presided by Mendes—cited Article 220 of the Constitution, which states that "the manifestation of thought, creation, expression, and information in any form, process or medium shall not be restricted in any way."

On February 15, 2018, the offices of TV Bandeirantes in Curitiba, state of Paraná, were targeted in a Molotov cocktail attack in which a security guard sustained minor injuries.

On February 16, 2018, journalist Iury Carvalho was assaulted by military police officers after he discovered that the officers were using a government vehicle for personal use in the municipality of Rorainópolis, state of Roraima.

On February 19, 2018, Renato Oliveira was relieved of his duties as assistant secretary of communication in Embu das Artes, in São Paulo, for his involvement in the attempted killing of journalist Gabriel Binho.

On February 20, 2018, the Human Rights and Minorities Committee of the Chamber of Deputies issued an official letter to Paulo Cerqueira, chief of the Civil Police of the state of Alagoas, criticizing offensive messages sent by Adelmo Calheiros, mayor of the municipality of Capela, to journalist Thayanne Magalhnães after the reporter ran a story on the postponement of classes at local schools.

In March 2018, a group of women journalists who cover sports launched a campaign with the hashtag #DeixaElaTrabalhar [Let Her Work] to denounce and fight back against incidents of assault and discrimination in the workplace, such as the following: Kelly Costa, a reporter for RBS TV, was verbally attacked on March 25, 2018, by a spectator at a game between Brasil de Pelotas and São José in Passo D'Areia Stadium in Porto Alegre, state of Rio Grande do Sul, as part of the Campeonato Gaúcho soccer league; Renata de Medeiros, a reporter for Rádio Gaúcha in Porto Alegre, was insulted by a spectator during a rivalry game at Beira-Ro Stadium on March 11, 2018; and Bruna Dealtry, a journalist for the Esporte Interativo network, was sexually assaulted on March 13, 2018, when a fan of Vasco do Gama tried to kiss her by force during a live broadcast from Rio de Janeiro.

On March 10, 2018, Mariana Rodrigues, a reporter for the newspaper Midiamax, was assaulted by Edson Giroto, a former federal legislator and former state secretary of public works, outside the headquarters of the Federal Police in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, as Giroto was arriving to face accusations of corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement of public funds.

On March 23, 2018, Efrém Ribeiro, a journalist for Meio Norte media network in the state of Piauí, reported that he was assaulted by Silas Freire, a federal legislator for the Podemos party, at the television station where both of them worked in Teresina, the state capital. Freire is a member of the pro-gun faction in the Chamber of Deputies and the host of the police program "Ronda Nacional."

On March 26, 2018, a man fired at least four shots at the headquarters of Jornal dos Bairros do Literal, a newspaper in Paranaguá, state of Paraná. The newspaper reports on local politics. Gilberto Fernandes, the newsroom editor, recently received threatening phone calls.

Assaults on journalists and media outlets occurred on April 5 in Brasília and São Paulo during the coverage of the aftermath of the Brazilian Supreme Court's upholding of the conviction of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

A joint statement by the ANJ, ABERT, and the National Association of Magazine Publishers (ANER) condemned the acts of violence, the attacks on press freedom, and the violations of the right of the Brazilian people to be informed.

Among other violent acts, a reporting team was assaulted in Brasília. A team from Correio Braziliense consisting of a reporter, a photographer, and a driver were surrounded by 30 protesters. A Reuters photographer and a team from the SBT television network were also threatened. In São Bernardo do Campo in São Paulo, supporters of the former president threw eggs at Nilton Fukuda, a photographer for O Estado de S. Paulo.

The IAPA also denounced the attacks on journalists.