Freedom of the Press
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Brazil has a vibrant democracy with strong constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression. In a positive step, a public information access law went into effect in 2012. However, journalists also experienced frequent violence, harassment, and censorship during the year. Incidents of judicial censorship were particularly troubling.
Various forms of libel and defamation remain criminalized in Brazil, although most of the numerous lawsuits that arise each year are filed under civil statutes. Bloggers frequently are forced to pay fines following defamation suits over their online reporting, and a 2012 report by the freedom of expression group Article 19 noted that the threat of lawsuits and court orders leads many bloggers and online journalists—who lack the resources of journalists backed by traditional media companies—to practice self-censorship. In November, a judge rejected the appeal of award-winning journalist Lúcio Flávio Pinto and ordered him to pay about $205,000 in libel damages to businessman Romulo Maiorana Júnior and his family’s company, Delta Publicidade. Pinto, who runs the blog Jornal Pessoal, has faced more than 30 criminal and civil lawsuits for his work since 1990.
Judicial censorship and harassment of journalists and media outlets remained common in 2012, with many episodes linked to municipal elections held in October. Courts issued fines and prison sentences, and on several occasions blocked publication of certain names and images. For example, numerous newspapers, radio and television stations, and websites were ordered not to mention the name of the mayor-elect of the city of Campo Mourão in Paraná State when discussing an investigation of alleged vote buying. In another case, an electoral judge ordered an embargo on an edition of the newspaper Correio do Estado in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in August because it was going to release the results of a voter poll.
The internet, including both small news sites and blogs and web giants such as Google, has been particularly hard-hit by judicial censorship. Google was forced to remove or modify more than 300 online items related to the municipal elections in 2012, and the website Jornal Oeste was prohibited by an electoral court from publishing information regarding the elections in Cáceres, Mato Grosso State, because its coverage allegedly favored a specific mayoral candidate. In September, a video that appeared on Google’s YouTube video-sharing site and supposedly mocked a mayoral candidate in Paraíba State led a judge to order the arrest of the director of Google Brazil, Edmundo Luiz Pinto Balthazar. Although he was temporarily detained, the order was overturned two days later. The daily newspaper O Estado de São Paulo has faced more than 1,000 days of censorship stemming from a 2009 court order that banned the newspaper from reporting on the business dealings of former president José Sarney’s son, Fernando Sarney. The problem of judicial censorship seemingly came to a head in November with the creation of a government commission, the National Forum of Judicial Authority and Freedom, tasked with monitoring court cases involving press freedom.
Brazil’s new freedom of information law, signed by President Dilma Rousseff in November 2011, went into effect in May 2012. The law guarantees public access to documents from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government at the federal, state, and municipal levels. It also provides for access to information about private entities that receive public funding. Furthermore, the law stipulates that information about human rights violations is not exempt from disclosure. However, the statute lacks an independent body to monitor enforcement. By the end of 2012, the federal government had received more than 50,000 information requests, of which roughly 95 percent were approved. Implementation of the law proceeded more slowly at the state and municipal levels. At year’s end, only 11 of Brazil’s 26 states conformed to the law’s requirements.
In August, a controversial constitutional amendment that would require a degree to practice journalism moved forward following approval in the Senate. If it also passes the Chamber of Deputies, the measure will go into effect, overturning a 2009 Supreme Federal Court ruling that declared such degree requirements unconstitutional. Critics contend that the rule would limit constitutional guarantees of free expression and free speech.
While the government does not restrict access to the internet, press freedom groups expressed concern over two proposed cybercrime laws—approved by the legislature in November and awaiting the president’s signature at year’s end—that could limit user privacy and restrict freedom of expression online. In addition, at the end of 2012 Congress was considering an Internet Bill of Rights, known as the “Marco Civil.” While initially aimed at protecting freedom of expression, the bill was changed to include language that advocacy groups contend would make internet service providers act as judge and jury in cases of copyright infringement.
Four journalists were killed in Brazil in 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)—the highest number in a decade. In February, Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes of the news website Vassouras na Net was abducted and murdered. He frequently accused local authorities of corruption, including the police and judiciary. In April, Décio Sá of O Estado do Maranhão and Blog do Décio was murdered by contract killers. He had extensively covered politics and corruption on his blog. In July, Radio Jornal sports reporter Valério Luiz de Oliveira—a critic of the local soccer team—was shot and killed. In November, a gunman killed Eduardo Carvalho of news website Última Hora News outside his home. He regularly reported on corruption and had survived a previous assassination attempt. According to CPJ, three of the four murders in 2012 remained unsolved; seven individuals, including one suspect who confessed to the shooting, were arrested in connection with Sá’s murder. In a potentially positive step toward combating impunity, the National Journalists’ Federation in November announced the creation of a commission, to be launched in 2013, aimed at investigating crimes against the press during the 1964–85 military dictatorship.
Beyond the killings, journalists in 2012 remained exposed to threats and physical violence, much of it linked to the municipal elections. In September, at the height of campaign season, a bomb attack at Radio Farol in União dos Palmares, Alagoas State, forced the station, known for its criticism of the outgoing mayor, off the air. In October, a reporting team from the Gazeta television network in Espírito Santo State was attacked by supporters of a defeated mayoral candidate in Vila Velha. In another case in October, journalist Oscar Filho of the Bandeirantes television network program CQC was beaten by militants from the ruling Workers’ Party. In December, Mauri König, director of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism and a reporter for the newspaper Gazeta do Povo, was forced to flee his home and take refuge in a secure location after receiving death threats for denouncing police corruption. Similarly, reporter André Caramante of the newspaper Folha de São Paulo spent several months in exile after writing articles about the police and a city councilman in São Paulo. In recognition of the alarming levels of violence against journalists, the government—after initially helping to block a UN initiative on journalists’ safety—changed course in September and cosponsored a resolution that was adopted at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.
Brazil is South America’s largest media market, with thousands of radio stations, hundreds of television channels, and a variety of major newspapers. In addition, about 50 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2012. Ownership of mass media continues to be highly concentrated among a few large companies. An estimated 10 business groups control most of the country’s outlets. The Globo Organizations conglomerate enjoys a dominant position, with Brazil’s principal television, cable, and satellite networks as well as several radio stations and print outlets. Another company, Editora Abril, leads Brazil’s magazine market. Hundreds of politicians nationwide are either directors or partners in roughly 300 media companies, most of them radio and television stations, according to the independent media monitoring group Media Owners (Donos da Midia). A Reporters Without Borders report cited the cozy relationship between media companies and politicians as one of the greatest obstacles to media diversity in Brazil. It also warned that high levels of government advertising create dependency and “financial servitude” on the part of the media.
Media diversity is hampered in part by the difficulty of obtaining community radio licenses. It can take up to 10 years in some cases to get a license, and only those stations transmitting at less than 25 watts qualify as “community” stations, meaning stations transmitting at 25 to 100 watts are often forced to operate illegally. In a 2012 submission to the UNHRC, Article 19 documented 326 legal cases—roughly half of them criminal—against community radio stations. For example, José Eduardo Rocha Santos, owner of a station in Sergipe State, faced a 30-month prison sentence for operating without a license until the verdict was overturned on appeal in July.