WHILE REPORTERS IN BRAZIL’S MAJOR CITIES UNEARTHED various political scandals, their colleagues in the provinces faced violent reprisal from politicians and local landowners because of their reporting. One provincial journalist was murdered.
In July, the aggressive urban press reignited a lingering scandal involving a 169 million real (US$90 million) embezzlement scheme tied to the construction of a courthouse in São Paulo. While the scandal had previously been the subject of a congressional investigation, new revelations involved the government for the first time. The weekly ISTOÉ reported that a then-fugitive, now-imprisoned judge implicated in the scheme had 117 telephone conversations with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s former chief adviser (there is no evidence that Cardoso was directly involved in the scheme, according to a credible local source). Investigations continued at year’s end.
On November 12, the daily Folha de S. Paulo added to Cardoso’s already considerable worries when it reported that over 10 million reales (US$5 million) in contributions to Cardoso’s 1998 re-election campaign had gone unreported. Around the same time, the weekly magazine Veja revealed that the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) was investigating matters outside its mandate, including the activities of Itamar Franco, a former president who is now an opposition governor. ABIN’s director was subsequently dismissed.
While reporters in Brazil’s major cities received accolades for breakings these major stories, provincial journalists who carried out similar efforts were threatened, attacked, and even murdered. Zezinho Cazuza of Rádio Xingó FM in Canindé de São Francisco, a small town in the northeastern state of Sergipe, was shot to death on March 13 after he repeatedly accused the local mayor of corruption. According to ISTOÉ, Mayor Genivaldo Galindo da Silva had publicly threatened to kill Cazuza, and police arrested a suspect who claimed the mayor had paid him to carry out the murder.
On March 8, a Veja reporter was kidnapped and threatened at gunpoint while investigating illegal land sales in the northern state of Pará. The kidnapper told the reporter he would be killed if he published his story, according to the Associação Nacional de Jornais (ANJ), an association of newspaper publishers. In April, unknown individuals ransacked the home and threatened the life of a TV reporter in the same state after he testified in court about the involvement of local officials in the drug trade, according to the Federação Nacional dos Jornalistas, a national press union that monitors press freedom abuses.
In October, a local judge in Acre State banned local press coverage of municipal elections, on the grounds that such reporting could constitute political propaganda. The Acre press reacted by publishing cake recipes or leaving blank space on newspaper pages, according to Sérgio Buarque de Gusmão, journalist and director of the watchdog group Instituto Gutenberg. (These tactics were used to denounce censorship during the 1970s, when Brazil was ruled by the military.)
Efforts to reform the 1967 Press Law remained stalled in the Chamber of Deputies. Although most Brazilian journalists support the reform process, they oppose a proposed amendment that would impose enormous fines for defamation and make media owners liable for unlimited damages. If the provision becomes law, small media outlets could be bankrupted by a single defamation case.
At year’s end, the Senate was still considering legislation that would prohibit public officials from leaking information to the press that could damage the reputation, honor, or privacy of any person currently under investigation. Indiscreet officials would face dismissal, hefty fines, up to two years’ imprisonment, and a ban on holding another public job for three years.
The influential daily O Estado de S. Paulo described this measure as “a price worth paying,” but other journalists condemned it as tantamount to a gag law. A similar initiative that would have barred prosecutors and judges from providing information about court cases was defeated in the Chamber of Deputies after a public outcry, according to the ANJ.
Érick Guimarães, O Povo
Marcos Studart, O Povo
A local politician attacked Guimarães and Studart, reporter and photographer, respectively, with the magazine O Povo in the city of Fortaleza, along with their driver, Valdir Gomes Soares. The O Povo team was in the town of Hidrolandia reporting on alleged irregularities in the administration of Mayor Luís Antônio Farias, according to local sources. The mayor had been accused of corruption and physical attacks against political opponents.
When Farias found the two journalists at his office he started beating up their driver. Studart tried to stop the attack, but the mayor turned on him as well, while Guimarães went to find help.
The mayor beat and kicked Studart and Soares, insisting they reveal who had sent them to investigate his administration. Both journalists found sanctuary in a nearby house, along with the driver.
Zezinho Cazuza, Rádio Xingó FM
Cazuza, also known as José Wellington Fernandes, a journalist with Rádio Xingó FM in Canindé de São Francisco, a municipality in the north-eastern state of Sergipe, was shot dead after leaving a party. Two days later, police arrested José Ferreira Melo, also known as Zé de Adolfo, who confessed to having killed Cazuza. Melo told police that the mayor of Canindé, Genivaldo Galindo da Silva, had offered him 3000 reales (US$1500) to kill Cazuza, and that he bought the murder weapon with the 500 reales that the mayor paid him as an advance.
Cazuza had been a persistent critic of the mayor, denouncing his alleged corruption and malfeasance on a daily basis. According to the Brazilian magazine ISTOÉ, Galindo had threatened publicly to kill the journalist.