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Home > Publications > Quill > Journalists find little protection in Brazil


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Friday, September 1, 2006
Journalists find little protection in Brazil

By Bruce Swaffield

Attacks against journalists in Brazil are becoming more frequent and severe, despite the country’s endorsement of a 1994 international declaration on freedom of expression.

The Chapultepec Declaration was signed in 1996 by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who joined leaders from 31 countries (including former U.S. President Bill Clinton)and territories throughout the Americas in support of the 10 principles of individual freedom for all people.

Last year, one journalist was slain and another severely wounded. Both incidents involved published reports about public officials who were suspected of dishonesty and corruption.

“The media, especially outside big cities, is still ruthlessly targeted when it does investigative reporting,” according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “Though rarely applied, the harsh 1967 press law continues to give rise to unjustified prosecutions.”

The 1967 law, which was passed when Brazil was under military dictatorship, has never been repealed.

“It says ‘insults’ and ‘libel’ are crimes and punishes press offenses with prison sentences, which can be increased if a public official has been targeted,” explains the RSF Web site.

During May 2006, there were four separate occasions when various journalists in Brazil were accused of such violations.

State of the media in Brazil

The following headlines and stories are representative of current conditions facing journalists in Brazil. Complete details on each incident may be found at www.rsf.org

* Authorities take a month to react to death threats against environmental journalist — “Reporters Without Borders condemned the sluggish reaction of the police in Niterói (in Rio de Janeiro state) to a complaint about repeated death threats and intimidation that journalist and environmentalist Vilmar Berna filed on 7 June and which was not passed on to the local judicial authorities until 5 July.”

* Newspaper preemptively fined 168 euros for each copy mentioning candidate for governor — “Reporters Without Borders deplored a 29 May court decision preemptively ordering the O Correio do Estado daily newspaper, based in Campo Grande (the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul state), to pay a fine of 168 euros for each copy printed whenever it mentions former mayor André Puccinelli, a candidate for state governor facing federal money-laundering charges.”

* Mayor’s son suspected in shooting attack on community radio presenter — “Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage at an attack on community radio journalist Camelo Luís de Sá of Quiterianópolis in the northeastern state of Ceará, who was shot twice in the right arm on 2 May while presenting a programme going out live. Police said the mayor’s son is suspected of being the gunman.”

Headlines of 2006

* “Dozens of police shot dead in Brazil as drug gang goes on rampage,” from The Guardian (UK).

* “São Paulo developers eye boom times ahead,” from Christian Science Monitor

* “Brazilian City Wakes to Prison Gang’s Power,” from The Washington Post

* “Calm returns to shocked São Paulo,” from BBC

* “Death Toll in São Paulo Rises to 133; City Is Calm,” from The Los Angeles Times

* “Police reclaim the streets of São Paolo,” from The London Times

* “Brazil’s Congress to Speed Crime Bill After São Paulo Violence,” from Bloomberg.com

* “Bolivian Gas Crackdown May Spur Inflation in Brazil, Argentina,” from Bloomberg.com

The major issues

* Official campaigning began in July for president, state governors, the Lower House of Congress, the Senate and state legislatures. President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva is seeking re-election against Geraldo Alckmin of the opposition Social Democracy Party. Voting will be conducted in October.

* Living conditions can be harsh in the big cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where a third of the population lives in favelas or slums, according to BBC News.

* Charges of corruption and bribery continue to haunt various officials and parties throughout the country. Political and social reforms are badly needed, but little has changed under the current administration.

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