|Amidst a deep economic crisis, Brazilians re-elected President Fernando
Henrique Cardoso on October 4. Several regional newspapers were fined in
October under an electoral law that prohibits the publication of political
opinion or electoral propaganda immediately before an election.
The murders of two journalists highlight the dangers facing reporters working
in the country's hinterlands, where political bosses and the military continue
to exert de facto control. Manoel Leal de Oliveira was killed in March after
he criticized local officials in the town of Itabuna; later that month,
television news host José Carlos Mesquita was killed after he criticized
local authorities in Ouro Preto do Oeste.
Most regional media outlets are dominated by powerful families who regard
them as vehicles to advance their political ambitions. The prime example
is the Collor de Mello family, which used its media empire in impoverished
Alagoas State as a springboard to local politics and, eventually, the presidency.
Reporters who criticize regional civilian and military authorities face constant
threats and occasional violence. Ironically, while Brazil's rural journalists
face some of the worst conditions in Latin America, those working in major
media markets such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo enjoy some of the
best. With a reputation for investigative reporting and the resources of
huge media conglomerates behind them, Brazilian journalists have earned
widespread public support and growing political power. Since 1992, when
aggressive reporting on corruption forced the resignation of President Fernando
Collor de Mello, investigative journalism has become a staple of the Brazilian
media (in fact, some journalists now worry that coverage has become too
Journalists throughout Brazil share a concern that the country's outdated
print law, drafted under the military dictatorship, is being used to limit
press freedom. Lawsuits remain common. Although there were no new convictions
resulting in a prison sentence, the risk continues to hang over all Brazilian
journalists. One clause of the 1967 law punishes journalists who publish
false or "truncated" news that "causes the loss of confidence in the banking
system" with up to six months imprisonment; a journalist who offends "public
morals and good customs" can be jailed for up to a year.
Efforts to reform the law and to ensure that any new legislation affirms
and strengthens the freedom of expression guarantees granted in the 1988
constitution have been hampered by members of Congress, who have proposed
that journalists be subject to fines of up to US$100,000 for defamation with
no limit on the damages that can be imposed on media owners. The proposed
bill would also make it easier for politicians to invoke the "Right to Reply,"
under which media outlets are required to give aggrieved parties space or
time to respond to allegations made in the press. The current bill is stalled
in the Congress, and a vote is not expected until a new legislature is chosen
in January 1999.
Other legislation limits the practice of journalism to those with a university
degree and prohibits journalists from printing the name of a minor accused
of a crime. A bill before the Senate would prohibit journalists from publishing
the names of crime victims.