Media under attack during and after the presidential election
On 1st January 2023, Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva began a third term as Brazil's president, promising to focus on poverty and the environment after far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's term in office. Lula had previously served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. According to reports, Bolsonaro had not yet conceded but gave approval for the transition to the new administration to take place.
As reported previously on the CIVICUS Monitor, in November and December 2022, supporters of President Bolsonaro protested the results of the election and called for military intervention. On 8th January 2023, a week after Lula took office, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters violently attacked the state federal buildings in Brasília, vandalising the Supreme Federal Court, the National Congress building, and the Planalto Presidential Palace.
On 9th January, the Federal Police arrested 2,151 people for vandalism of the federal buildings. Of these, 745 were released immediately but face charges, at the time of writing. On 13th March, the Brazilian Supreme Court ordered the provisional release of another 130 people who had been detained. The Attorney General's Office accused 919 of those arrested of public incitement to criminal activity and criminal association. Of these, 219 were charged with more serious crimes such as disregarding the rule of law and attempted coup d’état.
Media workers face persecution
According to documentation by the National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ) and the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI), media workers faced persecution during the presidential election period. Between the second round of the presidential elections on 30th October and 8th January, media watchdogs recorded at least 78 acts of aggression against media workers, including threats, harassment, physical attacks, destruction of equipment, and attacks on the headquarters of two media outlets.
On 8th January, the journalism association - Sindicato dos Jornalistas Profissionais do Distrito Federal (SJPDF) - recorded attacks on 16 journalists and other media workers who were reporting on the vandalism committed by Bolsonaro's supporters (see Introduction). The full list of violations is available on the SJPDF website with several examples as follows:
- The Bolsonaro supporters attacked a journalist from the local newspaper O Tempo inside the National Congress. According to the newspaper, rioters slapped, punched, kicked, and threatened the reporter with firearms.
- According to several news reports, Marina Dias, a reporter for the Washington Post, was pushed and kicked by rioters while trying to cover the protests.
- Rafaela Felicciano, a photojournalist for the news website Metrópoles, was surrounded by ten men who kicked and punched her and then stole her mobile phone and camera memory card, according to news reports.
Journalists verbally attacked
On 20th January 2023, César Brisolara (Cesinha), the mayor of Pelotas in Rio Grande do Sul, opened a speech by verbally attacking journalist Rafaela Rosa of Diário Popular for a report published that day that included plans to create and change positions and rules in the legislature. Brisolara called the reporter "incapable, incompetent, and biased". The mayor claimed that the journalist had published incorrect information in the report. The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI) condemned the verbal attacks against the journalist.
ABRAJI also reported two cases of transphobic attacks on journalists during Carnival. On 16th February 2023, during a city council session in Riachão do Jacuípe, council member Valdiney Pereira de Jesus verbally attacked journalist Alana Rocha from Radio Gazeta FM, using transphobic rhetoric in relation to Rocha.
On 19th February 2023, in São Pedro da Aldeia, reporter Sara York, a columnist for website 247, was physically assaulted by one of the city hall secretaries and security guards when she tried to photograph the municipal Carnival event. A transgender woman who is visually impaired, York was removed from the city hall, although she had been authorised to be there. ABRAJI condemned the transphobic attacks and language.
In addition, ABRAJI reported that on 27th February 2023, during an interview with the Aratu On portal, Deputy Rosenberg Pinto with the Bahia state legislature spoke out against journalist João Pedro Pitombo, a correspondent with Folha de S. Paulo in Salvador. The deputy criticised a report by Pitombo on the former state's first lady, Aline Peixoto, and accused the reporter of lying.
Defamation cases against journalists
ABRAJI also reported on the case of Rogério Florentino, a journalist from Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, who is facing criminal charges from businessman Pedro Eugenio Gomes Procopio da Silva, owner of two mining companies operating in the city. The businessman filed a criminal complaint after an investigative report was published by Florentino on his Conexão MT website. Procopio's defense claims that the title and text of the article have caused moral damage to the businessman, though the journalist claims that the information in the report is based on public records.
On 15th March 2023, Intervozes, ABRAJI, and 20 other civil society organisations issued a statement expressing concern over six lawsuits filed against reporter Schirlei Alves from Santa Catarina. According to Intervozes, in 2020, Schirlei Alves was working as a freelancer for The Intercept Brazil website and uncovered a scandal: the trial of Mariana Ferrer, a digital influencer who was humiliated during a hearing about the rape she had suffered. "Due to Schirlei Alves' report, the case was widely debated and culminated in the approval of Federal Law No. 14.425/2021, known as the Mariana Ferrer Law, which protects victims and witnesses of sexual crimes during trials," the document explains. The lawsuits against the journalist were filed by those involved in the case: the lawyer of the businessman accused of rape, the prosecutor who handled the case, and the judge who handed down the final sentence.
Brazil: Journalist Rogério Florentino faces criminal charges for story https://t.co/YDRW2D1sE0 #journalism #journalist #Brazil #PressFreedom— LatAm Journalism Review (@LatAmJournal1) February 2, 2023
2022 report cites severe cases of attacks on journalists
According to a report on violations against journalists in 2022, Relatório da Violência Contra Jornalistas e Liberdade de Imprensa no Brasil, prepared by the National Federation of Journalists, the number of attacks last year reached 376, and Bolsonaro was the main perpetrator, responsible for 104 cases. The report indicates a 12 percent decrease in attacks in 2022; however, this does not correlate to an improved environment for media workers, as there was a 133 percent increase in the most severe cases of violence against journalists (77 cases).
Violations of press freedom
In a positive development, the Federal Public Ministry, through the Regional Prosecutor's Office for Citizens' Rights in Rio de Janeiro, started an administrative monitoring procedure to address violations of press freedom and judicial harassment against journalists. The procedure will make it possible to "elaborate technical notes, construct subsidies, and present proposals for dealing with the issue within the scope of the justice system". The Brazilian Press Association nominated up to 10 representatives to participate in the debates and discussion on the development of the procedure and civil society was also invited to contribute.
In another recent development, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Latin America office has launched the Amazonian Press Freedom Violations Observatory project to map press freedom violations and the right to information in the Brazilian Amazon through June 2024.
Between 2019 and 2022, the Yanomami, holding Brazil's most extensive protected reserve - the Yanomami Indigenous Land, located in the states of Amazonas and Roraima - has become one of the indigenous groups most affected by the dismantling policy promoted by Jair Bolsonaro's government.
In January 2023, President Lula Da Silva denounced Bolsonaro for committing genocide against the Yanomami people after learning of more than 570 deaths of children under five. He declared a health emergency to address the situation.
The deaths were due to malnutrition, malaria, and other health problems. For the Yanomami people, the food and health crisis originated in 2019 with the invasion of their territory by more than 20 000 illegal miners, known as garimpeiros. The police will investigate Bolsonaro following an order from the Federal Supreme Court (STF). "More than a humanitarian crisis, what I saw in Roraima was genocide, a premeditated crime against the Yanomami, committed by a government insensitive to the suffering of the Brazilian people," Lula said on social media.
The new Brazilian government recently conducted operations to expel thousands of illegal gold miners from Indigenous Yanomami land.
On 9th January 2023, thousands of people mobilised in at least 11 cities of the country to condemn the 8th January actions by radical Bolsonaro supporters who had sought to overthrow the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Banners with the phrases "Fascism will not win!" among others were seen on the streets in at least 27 Brazilian states.
Civic Space Developments