MIAMI, Florida (October 31, 2018)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed concern at statements made by Brazil's president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, who threatened to withdraw official advertising from the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo in reprisal for news reports on the use of deceitful messages on WhatsApp during his electoral campaign.
IAPA President María Elvira Domínguez declared, "While we salute the election by the Brazilian citizens we are concerned that the president-elect does not draw a distinction between government and state, in saying that he would use the public administration to punish media that turn out to be uncomfortable, denying them official advertising."
Bolsonaro threatened to withdraw official advertising from Folha de S. Paulo in reprisal for a denunciation report that a group of businessmen were understood to have invested $4 million in a campaign to disseminate false news on WhatsApp against his opponent Fernando Haddad. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) on October 20 opened an investigation concerning the newspaper's publication. Bolsonaro, who declared being committed to freedom of expression, rejected the accusations and said that the newspaper lied.
Domínguez, editor of the Cali, Colombia, newspaper El País, added, "That marginalization of Folha de S. Paulo does not coincide with respect for freedom of the press and of expression which Bolsonaro committed to guarantee last Sunday after being elected, and much less to international conventions on human rights subscribed to by Brazil which establish that to discriminate in the placement of official advertising in media or not to take into account technical criteria to publicize public acts, and official advertising violates principles of freedom of expression and of the press."
The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Roberto Rock, added, "In the case of Brazil in addition to this threat we were concerned at the discrediting that the president-elect uses against critical media and journalists."
Rock, editor of the Mexico City, Mexico, news portal La Silla Rota, added, "While the media should be open to criticisms and they form part of that tense relationship that is natural between media and governments, the press must be guaranteed its freedom to carry out its priority functions, among them to criticize, give an opinion, denounce, investigate and demand transparency, and a rendering of accounts to all members of society, whether public or private." He added that commendable is the work of the Brazilian press carried out during the proceedings on the Lava Jato and other cases of corruption.
Following the publication of the article headlined "Businessmen finance a campaign Against the Workers Party through WhatsApp" on October 18 the journalist's telephone was threatened and hacked. Bolsonaro, who assumes the Presidency next January 1, has also been referring to Folha de S. Paulo and other critical media on Twitter as "garbage press."
The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida.