Attacks on the Press 1999: Brazil

While journalists in Brazil enjoy widespread popular support, restrictive laws pending before Congress and a number of violent attacks against the provincial press sparked concern among press freedom organizations in the country.

Efforts to reform the 1967 press law, considered “undemocratic and anachronistic” by local reporters, stalled in the Chamber of Deputies. Although most local journalists support the reform process, they oppose a provision that imposes enormous fines for defamation offenses. If this provision became law, small media outlets could be bankrupted by a single defamation case.

The press is divided over proposed modifications to a 1965 law. The new bill prohibits public officials from giving the press any information that could damage the reputation, honor, and privacy of any person who is under investigation by the government until a final verdict is reached in the case. Officials who leak information could be hit with dismissal, hefty fines, up to two years’ imprisonment, and a ban on holding another public job for three years. The bill has been approved by the Chamber of Deputies and is pending before the Senate.

The daily O Estado de S. Paulo described the modifications as “a price worth paying” to strengthen the right to privacy. The daily Folha de S. Paulo, on the other hand, said they amounted to a “gag law.” And the Federaõo Nacional dos Jornalistas (FENAJ), a press-union umbrella group that monitors press freedom, argues that privacy is sufficiently protected under current Brazilian law.

Anticipating that the press bill will become law, Brazilian judges have shown an increasing tendency to restrict trial coverage. In November, the Associaõo Nacional de Jornais, another press freedom organization, denounced a judge’s ruling prohibiting journalists in Piaui State from publishing the names of mayors and municipalities involved in a lawsuit. In December, another judge barred the Amazonas State daily A Crítica from publishing information about a libel suit filed against the paper by a local official.

For the first time since 1996, no journalists were killed on the job in Brazil. But physical attacks and death threats remained all too common, especially in the interior of the country. Correio Popular, a newspaper in the town of Campinas, in Sõo Paulo State, has reportedly received so many death threats that it now publishes all stories on drug trafficking without a byline. All over the country, politicians and state employees threatened journalists. In July, for example, federal legislator Eliseu Moura shot up the studios of Catedral, a radio station in the city of Pirapemas, in Maranhõo State. At the time, Catedral was airing a report on irregularities committed by the mayor of Pirapemas, who is also Moura’s wife. Several people were injured in the attack, according to FENAJ.

August 9
Orismar Rodrigues,
Jornal do Commercio THREATENED

Gossip columnist Rodrigues was threatened by Roberto Magalhões, the mayor of Recife, who entered the newsroom of the daily Jornal do Commercio carrying a firearm. The columnist had alleged that the mayor’s wife was behind a vote to censor artist Francisco Brennand, who had been commissioned to design a municipal sculpture. The mayor reportedly told Rodrigues that he had better stop publishing such articles if he felt like living another 20 years.