Rio de Janeiro, December 12, 2019 — Brazilian authorities must thoroughly investigate the arson attack against broadcaster radio Aliança FM and hold the perpetrators to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
In the early hours of December 3, unidentified assailants burned down the broadcast antenna of Brazilian community radio station Aliança FM in the city of Choró, in Ceará state, according to local news reports. No one was harmed in the attack, which destroyed the antenna, according to those reports.
“The arson attack on community radio station Aliança FM is deeply disturbing. The police in Ceará should thoroughly investigate the attack, bring those responsible to justice, and take all necessary measures to ensure that radio journalists can report safely,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Central and South America program coordinator, in New York. “The harassment and intimidation of community radio journalists directly affects people’s access to information, especially in remote areas.”
Marcolino Borges, the founder and editor-in-chief of Aliança FM, told CPJ via phone that he was at home when someone who lives near the antenna location called him, between 1 and 2 a.m. on December 3, saying the antenna was on fire. Borges said he arrived at the antenna soon after and found it destroyed, with its equipment shed on fire. He said he called the police, and that they arrived and opened an investigation into the attack.
The radio’s studio is located in a different area than the antenna, and was not attacked, Borges said.
Borges told CPJ that he co-founded Aliança FM–originally known as Pioneira FM—in 2005, and said it had received many threats for its broadcasts over the years in relation to its coverage of local news and politics.
Borges added that he has been in a long-running dispute with Otacio Dantas Filho, a former mayor of Choró, who was unhappy with the station’s coverage of local politics and had threatened to “end” radio Aliança FM.
Borges said that, since September 2018, Dantas Filho has tried to jam radio Aliança FM’s broadcasts by transmitting radio signals on the same frequency. Borges said he filed a complaint with the National Telecommunications Agency, which shut down Dantas Filho’s station last year, but added that Dantas Filho had recently resumed broadcasting on Aliança FM’s frequency.
In a phone interview with CPJ, Dantas Filho said that he had nothing to do with the attack on the antenna and that he had never interfered in Aliança FM’s broadcasts. Dantas Filho said that Borges stole radio equipment from him in the past, an accusation that Borges denied to CPJ.
Dantas Filho told CPJ that he believes radio stations should not cover local politics, and said he would give a statement to police if asked.
Tim Carlos, a representative of the Community Radios National Association, and Vanderlei Barbosa, a representative of the Radio Journalists Union in the Quixadá region, which includes Choró, confirmed in emails to CPJ that there had been an ongoing dispute over radio broadcast rights in the city.
The Secretary of Public Security and Social Defense sent a statement to CPJ via email saying that authorities’ initial findings indicated that someone cut the cables supporting the antenna and then set it on fire using a flammable liquid, and said that no explosive devices were found at the scene.
The statement also said that the Civil Police are interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence, but that no further details could be shared in order to avoid jeopardizing the investigation.
Since the beginning of 2018, Brazilian radio journalists have been subject to death threats, bombing attacks, a drive-by shooting, and threats from politicians, according to CPJ reporting. At least two radio reporters, Jairo Souza and Jefferson Pureza Lopes, have been killed in that time, according to CPJ research.