Country Summary

Brazil’s feisty press faced off with a hostile Congress. The lawmakers considered scores of bills that threaten to restrict the current atmosphere of unfettered press freedom that Brazil has fostered since the country’s 21 years of military rule ended in 1985.

Brazil’s 1988 constitution abolished all forms of censorship and does contain a broad provision similar to the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of speech and a free press. The current legislative obsession with press laws is due in part to a broad congressional effort to update laws still on the books that date to the military dictatorship. The 53 bills aimed at the press, however, represent a possible encroachment on press freedom in Brazil—and, in fact, comprise the most formidable legislative assault against the press in Latin America.

Many Brazilian journalists and media owners alike interpret the legislators’ efforts to pass draconian press legislation as punitive, punishment for a press that has cultivated a tradition of aggressive investigative reporting, often exposing scandal and official corruption.

Protests from media companies and journalists did manage to derail two of the more draconian measures under consideration. One of the withdrawn bills, under consideration by the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of Congress) included provisions that would have allowed judges to order jail time for journalists convicted of libel and defamation of character and permit fines on media companies of up to 20 percent of their annual revenues. The two controversial measures were dropped after protests from the press, but scores of other provisions that would give judges significant leeway in ruling on press cases remain under consideration.

Arnaldo Jabor, a commentator for TV Globo, the country’s largest network, raised the ire of legislators in May when he characterized the congress as a “ supermarket,” where “a guy can arrive with a suitcase full of money” and buy votes in exchange for political favors. A few days after he made his remarks, congress moved to expedite some of the new press legislation.

“We will not accept this kind of treatment from the Brazilian press,” declared Luis Eduardo Magalhaes, the president of the Chamber of Deputies. “We need a legal instrument that can repel those who attack us without proof, those who seek to denigrate us.”

Brazil’s regional press, like that of other Latin American countries, was more vulnerable to threats and attacks from local power brokers and criminals because of its isolation in provincial areas.

Overall, however, the Brazilian press continues in its role as society’s watchdog, resolving problems that the political system cannot, reporting on issues ranging from banking scandals to the murder of street children.

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