Attacks on the Press 2007: Brazil


With 15 journalists killed for their work in as many years, Brazil is one of the region’s deadliest countries for the press, but court-imposed censorship and official antagonism have also emerged as major issues for the news media. Time and again, local courts issued rulings that barred journalists from reporting on malfeasance, while high-ranking officials routinely assailed the media for their coverage.

“It has become fashionable for politicians and officials to blame the press when caught in irregularities,” said prominent reporter Marcelo Beraba, president of the Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo. “Instead of responding to the accusations, [politicians] prefer to present themselves as victims of the media.”

Journalists in the country’s vast interior, where police and government institutions are weak, continued to be targets of violence while reporting on organized crime and corruption. Two reporters were shot; one died and the other quit the profession in fear of further reprisals. In May, unidentified individuals gunned down Luiz Carlos Barbon Filho in the small city of Porto Ferreira, 140 miles (230 kilometers) from São Paulo. The provincial journalist, who had gained national recognition for his reporting on a child abuse case that involved local politicians, was blunt in his criticism of authorities. CPJ is investigating to determine whether the slaying was related to Barbon Filho’s work. Several people, police officers among them, were questioned, but no arrests were reported by late year.

Although journalists who work in large urban centers such as Brasília, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro enjoy greater security than their colleagues in the interior, they are not immune to violence when reporting on crime and corruption. In September, Correio Braziliense reporter Amaury Ribeiro Jr. was shot in the abdomen while investigating a story on organized crime. Ribeiro was investigating possible links between drug trafficking, sexual exploitation of minors, and the killings of teenagers when the attack occurred on the outskirts of Brasília, Brazil’s capital. Four men were arrested shortly after the attack. Although police called the shooting an attempted robbery, Ribeiro told CPJ he was targeted for his reporting. He later stopped working as a journalist.

While most crimes against the press have gone unpunished, Brazilian authorities made headway by convicting the mastermind of the 2004 slaying of Samuel Romã, a host and owner of Radio Conquista FM, based in the Paraguayan town of Capitán Bado, just across the Brazilian border from Coronel Sapucaia in the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Judge César de Souza sentenced Eurico Mariano, former mayor of Coronel Sapucaia, to 17 years and nine months in prison for hiring the gunmen who shot Romã. The judge concluded that the former mayor ordered Romã’s murder to silence his commentary.

Relations between the media and the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known popularly as Lula, became increasingly hostile. Government supporters routinely described the press as “an opposition political party.” The antagonism intensified following news coverage of a series of political scandals involving administration officials. On July 31, the ruling Workers Party issued a resolution encouraging its members to oppose “attacks from the right and its allies in the media.”

The national newsweekly Veja found itself targeted after reporting in May that the president of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, a key Lula ally, had allegedly accepted bribes from a leading construction company. Calheiros denied the allegations and said Veja was seeking to force him out of Congress. Brazilian senators rejected in September an ethics committee recommendation calling for Calheiros to be removed from office, although the senator later resigned his leadership position. Calheiros continued to deny corruption allegations against him.

Members of Congress wanted Veja investigated, too. Congressman Wladimir Costa, a fellow member of Calheiros’ Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, called for an inquiry into commercial links between the Madrid-based telecommunications giant Telefónica and Grupo Abril, Veja’s publisher. According to his proposal, the inquiry would ensure that the relationship did not harm the free flow of information. Local journalists called the investigation reprisal for Veja’s reporting on the Calheiros case and official corruption.

Politicians, businessmen, and government officials accused of corruption or incompetence routinely sought court orders to bar news coverage. Local courts were typically sympathetic to such requests, granting injunctions that effectively censored news coverage. The local rulings were quashed on appeal in most cases, but they had the effect of restricting coverage when it was most needed, CPJ found.

“Our judicial system is deeply intrusive and allows censorship—which the constitution does not admit,” said lawyer Samuel McDowell de Figueiredo, an expert on media issues. Local judges tended to invoke provisions of the Brazilian Civil Code, which provides strong privacy protection at odds with broader constitutional guarantees of free expression.

In June, a judge in the northeastern state of Bahia banned the Metropóle media group, which includes a magazine, a radio station, and a Web site, from even mentioning the name of João Henrique Carneiro, mayor of the state capital of Salvador. The judge ordered the seizure of 30,000 copies of the magazine Metropóle, which criticized local government services and featured a cartoon of the mayor on the cover. In another contentious decision, a judge in the state of São Paulo banned Folha de Vinhedo, a weekly in the city of Vinhedo, from publishing an article in which a former official accused local authorities and businesspeople of corruption. The judge ruled that the article would damage the credibility of Vinhedo authorities and ordered “preventive censorship” of two June editions of the weekly.

According to research cited by the magazine Consultor Jurídico, which focuses on media legal issues, the range of awards in moral damage suits against the press had quadrupled in four years. The magazine found that compensation increased from an average of 18,200 reals (US$10,400) in 2003 to 73,000 reals (US$41,800) in 2007.

In October, Lula launched a state-owned media group called Empresa Brasil de Comunicación that will run the government-backed broadcaster TV Brasil. Administration officials said the new state-owned channel would be autonomous and would be modeled after European broadcasters such as the BBC. With an initial investment of 200 million reals (US$115 million), the government said TV Brasil would focus on culture, education, and science.

The political opposition and some media outlets criticized the initiative, arguing that TV Brasil had been inspired by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías’ extensive and highly controlled state media system. The influential daily O Estado de São Paulo wrote that Lula has created “a system to promote the government’s interests.”