Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Brazil’s media environment experienced both setbacks and improvements in 2008. In February, the Supreme Court suspended 22 articles of the Press Law for six months due to their incompatibility with the constitution. The articles allowed prison sentences for defamation and insult. A final decision was pending at year’s end. In November, the Chamber of Deputies organized a public hearing to discuss ways to improve transparency and participation in licensing processes with different civil society actors. Historically, the public has not been given a voice in such hearings. The outdated 1962 Telecommunications Code is still in place and fails to respect key constitutional and international legal provisions for freedom of expression. Federal legislator Maria do Carmo Lara proposed that the constitution be amended to prevent politicians and state employees from owning or being partners in radio and television stations. The proposal was poorly received by many politicians. Currently there are 86 other proposals circulating in the National Congress. According to the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), most of them affect the independence of media outlets by restricting advertising. In other legal matters, the Supreme Court discussed overturning a 1969 law that requires Brazilian journalists to hold a degree in journalism and register with the Ministry of Labor in order to practice professionally, but did not rule on the matter by year’s end.
Legal rulings favoring censorship to protect the reputation of political candidates were common in 2008. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) registered 23 cases in which electoral courts barred or limited political reporting. The courts sometimes even ordered the seizure of publications. This was the case with the weekly Agosto of Ribeirao Bonito, Sao Paulo, after it published a series of interviews with mayoral candidates, as well as with the weekly Impacto of Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, which was accused of using profanities in its coverage of the local mayor and his political allies. According to IAPA, that was the third attempt to censor Impacto by a local judge, who also ruled that the paper’s website should be taken down. In Rio de Janeiro, a judge ordered the closure of the Entrerios Jornal for 72 hours after it denied the mayor the right of reply. The judge instructed military police to occupy the newspaper’s office and to remove all of its employees. The actions appeared to contradict the constitution, which specifically prohibits censorship and advises libel victims to seek damages in court and demand the right to reply. On a positive note, the Electoral Court of Sao Paulo ruled in favor of the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo and the newsweekly magazine Veja, rescinding the heavy fines imposed on them for interviews of a mayoral candidate. The publications had been accused of advancing “electoral propaganda.”
The suspension of parts of the press law in February favored Lucio Flavio Pinto, the editor of the semimonthly Jornal Pessoal in the state of Para. He faces several pending defamation complaints for his reporting on drug trafficking, environmental devastation, and political and corporate corruption in the Amazon region. A CPJ investigation found that businesspeople, politicians, and public officials have filed multiple lawsuits against news organizations and journalists throughout the country, seeking large sums for moral and material harm. The practice escalated in 2008, when more than 100 individual members of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God filed civil defamation suits in different cities against Folha de S. Paulo and its reporter Elvira Lobato. Lobato’s articles claimed that the church used a company located in a tax haven to funnel donations into an array of church-owned businesses. The courts dismissed more than half of the lawsuits.
Members of the media, particularly those who reported on organized crime and corruption, continued to face violent attacks in 2008. In May, armed men kidnapped and tortured two journalists from the daily O Dia in Rio de Janeiro. The attack was in response to paper’srelease of a special report detailing how criminal groups control local politics and charge residents of poor neighborhoods for protection. The journalists were released after seven hours of torture. Later, they identified at least one of the kidnappers as a member of the local police. In June, two individuals on a motorcycle opened fire on the offices of Diario do Amazonas, a daily newspaper published in Manaus, after it ran stories on corruption involving the mayor of the nearby city of Coari. Impunity for past murders is a concern, as several killings of journalists remain unsolved. Fear of legal and physical reprisals causes some journalists to practice self-censorship.
Brazil boasts dynamic and diverse media that present an array of opinions on social and political issues as well as criticism of the government and its policies. The country is home to hundreds of newspapers and television stations in addition to thousands of radio stations. Nevertheless, vigorous investigative journalism is practiced more often in the main cities than in the interior, where legal and physical threats feed a climate of intimidation. Ownership is highly concentrated, particularly within the broadcast sector. The Globo Organizations conglomerate enjoys a dominant position, controlling Brazil’s principal television and cable networks as well as several radio stations and print outlets. Another company, Editora Abril, holds more than two-thirds of the magazine market. One in every five legislators on the powerful Committee on Science, Technology, Communication, and Information (CCTCI) has business connections to radio and television stations. At the national level, 271 Brazilian politicians are either directors or partners in 324 media companies, most of them radio and television stations, according to the independent media monitoring group Media Owners (Donos da Midia).As a country with huge economic disparities, Brazil has made tremendous gains in expanding internet access. More than 34 percent of Brazilians accessed the internet in 2008. While internet use has been mostly unrestricted in the past, new actions raised concerns for freedom of expression. In July, the Senate adopted a bill on cyber crime that is expected to be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies. It was considered a potential threat by Reporters Without Borders, as it would reinforce surveillance of the internet and provide penalties of up to three years in prison. The Senate explained in a vaguely worded press release that the law would not be applied to those who use the internet “correctly.”