Attacks on the Press in 2008: Brazil

The kidnapping and torture of two journalists and a driver working undercover in Rio de Janeiro exposed the risks to Brazilian journalists, especially those reporting on organized crime in urban areas. Throughout the country, journalists covering mayoral and legislative campaigns faced legal and physical harassment.

In June, the Rio de Janeiro-based daily O Dia published a special report, “Militias: Terror Politics,” detailing the abduction and torture of a three-member team reporting from Batan, a poor neighborhood on the western outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. O Dia had been investigating how criminal groups charged residents for protection and controlled local politics. Armed men wearing ski masks kidnapped two journalists and their driver, the report said. The assailants took them to a nearby house, where they beat them, gave them electric shocks, and put plastic bags over their heads. The staffers were released after seven hours of torture, during which at least one of the attackers identified himself as a member of the local police, the newspaper reported. O Dia did not identify the journalists or the driver for fear of retaliation. All of the staffers left Rio de Janeiro and received medical and psychological care, the daily reported.

A few days after the story was published, police arrested a member of a Batan crime group. Two weeks later, a former prison guard and reputed crime group leader turned himself in to Rio de Janeiro police. Both suspects were charged with torture, robbery, and the creation of a criminal group, accusations they denied. Authorities arrested two more crime group members in September and three military police officers in December.

After the attack on O Dia, urban militias, drug trafficking, and poverty took center stage in Rio de Janeiro’s mayoral campaign. The issues were highlighted again in July when a mayoral candidate’s campaign trip to the Vila de Cruzeiro shantytown took an unexpectedly dark turn. As photographers for the national dailies O Globo, Jornal do Brasil, and O Dia took photos of candidate Marcello Crivella, at least two hooded men with guns approached and ordered the journalists to delete their pictures. One threatened to “burn everyone” if he was photographed. The next day, O Globo managed to publish a number of the sensitive photographs.

Campaign-related violence against the press was reported in other areas of the country as well. In July, for example, unidentified men on a motorcycle set fire to the home of Jeso Carneiro in Santarém, a city in the northern state of Pará. Carneiro, a reporter for the weekly Gazeta de Santarém and the blog Jeso Carneiro and host of the daily political interview show “Opinião” on TV Bandeirantes, said he believed he was targeted because of his critical coverage of local politicians.

Court-imposed censorship remained a major issue during the months leading up to the October municipal elections. Electoral courts, the legal bodies that manage all election-related matters, barred or limited political reporting in at least 23 cases, CPJ research found. Based on a restrictive interpretation of electoral regulations, a number of courts found that interviews with candidates constituted electoral propaganda.

In extreme cases, local electoral courts ordered entire issues of publications to be seized. On May 28, a court in Ribeirão Bonito in São Paulo seized all copies of the local weekly Agosto after the paper published a series of interviews with mayoral candidates. The court’s ruling, which was reviewed by CPJ, called the material “propaganda.” Judge Henrique Martins ordered the confiscation of the entire July 25-31 issue of the small weekly Impacto de Santa Catarina, based in Florianópolis in southern Santa Catarina, because he claimed the paper had used profanities in citing the mayor and his political allies.

In a positive development, the Supreme Federal Tribunal decided in February to suspend 22 articles of the 1967 Press Law for six months. The tribunal, Brazil’s highest court, ruled that the articles appeared to be incompatible with the 1988 constitution, which guarantees free expression and prohibits censorship. Among the suspended provisions were articles that limited coverage of public entertainment events and that set prison terms of up to three years for defamation. In September, the court extended the suspension for another six months and said it would come to a final decision on the constitutionality issue in 2009.

Pending criminal defamation suits against Brazilian journalists were suspended as a result. Few journalists had faced more criminal complaints than Lúcio Flávio Pinto, editor of the semimonthly Jornal Pessoal and a 2005 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award. Pinto, whose paper is based in the Amazonian state of Pará, had reported extensively on sensitive issues such as drug trafficking, environmental devastation, and political and corporate corruption. The courts suspended four criminal defamation suits against him.

Pinto and others praised the provisional ruling but warned that civil defamation statutes have also been used as a weapon against the press. Businesspeople, politicians, and public officials have made a practice of filing multiple lawsuits against news outlets and journalists as a form of pressure, straining their financial resources and forcing them to halt critical coverage, CPJ research showed. As part of this practice, known as the “industry of compensation,” plaintiffs seek disproportionately high amounts of money for “moral and material damages.” Thousands of these cases have filled court dockets in recent years.

Beginning in late 2007 and continuing in 2008, more than 100 individual members of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God filed civil defamation suits in different cities across the country against the national daily Folha de S. Paulo and Elvira Lobato, its business reporter. The plaintiffs claimed the reporter and the newspaper offended their faith, the daily’s lawyers said. Lobato’s article claimed the church used a company situated in a tax haven to channel donations to 19 church-owned businesses, including television and radio stations, newspapers, travel agencies, and real estate. By late year, the courts had dismissed more than half of the 101 lawsuits.

AMERICAS: Regional Analysis
Drug trade, violent gangs pose grave danger

AMERICAS: Country Summaries

Argentina Ecuador
Bolivia Guatemala
Brazil Mexico
Colombia United States
Cuba Venezuela
Other Attacks and Developments in the Region

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