“Investigative journalism is dangerous in Brazil,” says Simone Marques, a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Deutsche Welle and press freedom groups. “It often leads to lawsuits, harassment or even murders.”
Nor has the press climate improved as Brazil prepares for the global attention that comes with hosting the World Cup. Cases of violence against media workers more than tripled to 136 last year, according to government statistics cited by the Index on Censorship, a press freedom group.
In particular, press freedom has been deteriorating since mass protests began in June 2013 against bus fare increases, corruption and the spending for the tournament. According to the Inter American Press Association, more than 70 journalists were the subjects of police brutality during the protests. “The violence, which in some cases resulted in serious injuries, was also directed at the facilities and vehicles of media companies in a sign of increasingly hostile attitudes toward the media among groups of various stripes,” the Miami-based group said in a report.
The trend culminated in a spate of journalist deaths earlier this year. Santiago Ilídio Andrade, 49, a cameraman for the television network Bandeirantes, was hit by a flare in one of such protest in Rio de Janeiro in February. After four days in a coma, he was declared brain dead. The man who threw the flare was arrested and another who provided him with the flare is expected to face charges of attempted homicide.
Just days after Andrade’s death, the owner of a newspaper known for exposing corruption in local government was shot and killed in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. Pedro Palma, whose Panorama Regional had been critical of police misconduct and the local mayor’s office, was gunned down by two men who fled on a motorcycle Feb. 13.
Three days later, José Lacerda da Silva, 50,a cameraman for a local television station TV Cabo Mossoró was shot and killed outside a supermarket in the western region of Rio Grande do Norte. Police did not immediately identify either suspects or motive for the killing, according to Reporters Without Borders.
In a final killing, Geolino Lopes Xavier, 44, host of the news program “A Tarde,” was shot by two men Feb. 27 as he was dropping off a colleague at her home in the city of Teixeira de Freitas in the northeastern state of Bahia.
Impunity is a problem. With nine unsolved murders of journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks the country 11th on its 2014 Global Impunity Index.
"Impunity in killings of journalists and other media workers continued to be the most serious threat to press freedom," the report published by the Inter American Press Association says.
President Dilma Rousseff’s administraion formed a working group in late 2012 to investigate attacks on the press and issue recommendations to the federal government. The group recommended extending a protection program for human rights advocates to journalists—an initiative that provides help such as police protection and relocation for media workers facing threats. “The question is whether the government will implement its recommendations, and if it does, how it will, and how quickly,” CPJ said in a recent investigation.
Judicial censorship, or the use of privacy laws to file suits to silence the media and discourage critical reporting, is also a problem. In the period covered by the report made by the Inter American Press Association, which is from October 2013 until February 2014, nine incidents of judicial censorship took place.
In general, powerful people appeal to court to prevent journalists from publishing critical stories about them. As it is often expensive for journalists and media outlets to defend themselves, they shy away from controversial stories, says Taís Gasparian, a Sao Paulo lawyer who often works for journalists.
In one incident in August, a judge in the northeastern city of Recife granted an injunction preventing two newspapers and a television station from naming the Giovana Góes Uchoa, speaker of the regional legislature, in news stories about an investigation into influence peddling. At issue were reports that Uchoa had used his position in attempt to help his daughter, a lawyer, with a child adoption case.
Ricardo Pedreira, executive director of the Brasilia-based National Association of Newspapers, told CPJ that such judicial censorship is contrary to free speech guarantees in Brazil’s constitution. “It hurts Brazilian society because people are not getting all the information that they should be," the New York-based press freedom group quoted him as saying.
Marques, the Brazilian freelance journalist, said she herself was forced to remove an online literary article after spending four years in court because it was found to “promote crime.” She has also faced extrajudicial efforts at censorship, including threatening phone calls and digital attacks on her blog.
Still, she sees the World Cup as an opportunity for Brazilian media to highlight social and human rights issues in the country. “It will be a challenge and an opportunity for the local media to report not just on sports but show a more complex portrait,” she says. “The Brazilian media has never gone through such a moment, and neither has Brazil.”
For further in-depth reporting on Brazil’s problems with impunity and judicial censorship, see “Halftime for the Brazilian Press,” published May 6 by the Committee to Protect Journalists.