Attacks on the Press 2002: Brazil

Workers Party (PT) candidate and former labor leader Luiz Inácio da Silva, known as Lula, won presidential elections in October, defeating the ruling coalition’s candidate by a wide margin and becoming Brazil’s first president not to come from the country’s political and economic elite. In previous elections, the country’s leading newspapers and television networks opposed Lula and his party. However, in the weeks leading up to the transfer of power, scheduled for January 2003, the press gave him and the PT more favorable coverage, prompting some commentators to speculate that ailing media companies want to improve relations with Lula to enlist his support for a possible financial bailout.

The June murder of Brazilian reporter Tim Lopes rocked the nation and illustrated the dangers that journalists in the country face when covering organized crime. Lopes, an award-winning investigative reporter with TV Globo, was brutally murdered by drug traffickers while working on assignment in one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, or shantytowns.

CPJ continues to follow developments in the case of a second murdered journalist, Domingos Sávio Brandão Lima Júnior, the owner, publisher, and a columnist of the daily Folha do Estado. He was killed by hired gunmen in September.

While the Brazilian media work relatively free from government intervention, several judicial decisions have restricted the press’s ability to disseminate news considered to be of public interest. Civil and criminal defamation lawsuits against journalists and media outlets have increased during the last several years, according to the publishers’ group Associação Nacional de Jornais (National Association of Newspapers). Too often, businessmen, politicians, and public officials pile up lawsuits against journalists to pressure them, strain their resources, and force them to halt their criticisms. Frequently, plaintiffs seek ridiculously high amounts of money as reparation for having suffered “moral damage.” And judges more frequently admit such lawsuits in court and rule against journalists and media outlets.

For instance, in late October, Luís Nassif, a journalist with the daily Folha de S. Paulo, was convicted of defaming a construction company. The case stemmed from a September 2000 article in which Nassif reported on a high-court ruling against the company, which had sued a government-owned utility for damages. Bypassing the question of whether the journalist had intended to defame the company, the judge sentenced Nassif to three months in prison and ordered him to pay a fine worth 10 minimum salaries. The judge later commuted the sentence to community service work. At year’s end, Nassif said he would appeal the sentence.

Members of the judiciary continued to interfere with the media by allowing prior censorship under the guise of protecting privacy and honor. Throughout 2002, judges granted injunctions banning the press from publishing any information about lawsuits involving politicians and public officials. In a decision that caused a widespread uproar, a judge ordered that copies of the October 24 edition of the Brasilia-based daily Correio Braziliense be searched and confiscated if the issue contained excerpts from conversations that were legally recorded by the police that the paper had obtained. These conversations allegedly implicated federal district governor Joaquim Roriz in acts of corruption. In addition, the judge ordered that a court official, accompanied by Roriz’s lawyer, visit the paper’s offices and monitor the editing process of the October 24 issue to ensure that no news about the tapes was published.

In December, the Senate’s Justice and Constitution Committee passed a bill, known by its critics as the “gag law,” to prohibit judicial and law enforcement officials from giving information to the press that could damage the reputation, honor, or privacy of any person under investigation. Violators face dismissal, hefty fines, up to two years’ imprisonment, and a ban on holding a public job for three years. While the government insists that the bill seeks to prevent the premature disclosure of unsubstantiated allegations, many journalists fear the measure will inhibit press investigations of corruption, arguing that a person’s reputation is already well protected under Brazilian law. The full Senate has not yet approved the bill.

May 23

Brazilian media

A Brazilian judge granted an injunction banning the country’s media from publishing any information about the administrative-disciplinary proceedings against Judge Renato Mehana Khamis, of the Regional Labor Tribunal of São Paulo State.

São Paulo State Court of Justice judge Zélia Maria Antunes Alves granted the injunction requested by Judge Khamis–who faces administrative-disciplinary proceedings for alleged sexual harassment–which bars the Brazilian media from circulating any information related to the case. According to Brazilian news reports, a lower-court judge in the city of São Paulo had earlier denied the injunction.

June 3

Tim Lopes, TV Globo

For full details on this case, click here.

September 19

Lúcio Flávio Pinto, Jornal Pessoal

Lúcio Flávio, a free-lance journalist based in Belém, the capital of the northern state of Pará, faced several criminal and civil lawsuits because of his reporting. The journalist writes the column “Carta da Amazônia” (Letter from the Amazon) for the São Paulo-based daily O Estado de S. Paulo and is the publisher and editor of the small, Belém-based monthly Jornal Pessoal.

The charges stem from a series of articles that the journalist published in Jornal Pessoal in 1999 and 2000 denouncing the illegal appropriation of timber-rich land in the Amazon rain forest by companies controlled by Cecílio do Rego Almeida, owner of the construction company CR Almeida, and his sons. The journalist also reported that the Pará Land Institute, a government agency that manages the land belonging to Pará State, and federal prosecutors were trying to cancel land titles that Almeida and his sons had bought and registered in collusion with corrupt judicial officials.

Lúcio Flávio supported his allegations with data from Brazil’s Ministry of Agrarian Development. In interviews with the Brazilian press, Cecílio do Rego Almeida has denied that the land is public property. In 1996, federal and state authorities filed a lawsuit to try to recover the land. A court decision is still pending.

Cecílio do Rego Almeida filed a criminal defamation lawsuit and two civil lawsuits against Lúcio Flávio. According to legal documents that were made available to CPJ, the businessman alleges that the journalist’s articles offended him and requests monetary compensation for “moral damages.”

Pará State judge João Alberto Paiva has also filed criminal and civil lawsuits against the journalist. The charges stem from an editorial in which Lúcio Flávio heavily criticized the judge for granting an injunction that restored temporary control of the land contested by Brazilian authorities to a company controlled by Cecílio do Rego Almeida.

An award-winning journalist, Lúcio Flávio has received numerous threats in the past for his critical reporting on a variety of subjects, including drug trafficking, environmental devastation, and political and corporate corruption.

September 30

Domingos Sávio Brandão Lima Júnior, Folha do Estado

For full details on this case, click here.