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THE AMERICAS: Countries in Focus

Update on Brazil

2018 XpA Scores:
Freedom of Expression – 0.59 Civic Space – 0.55
Digital – 0.64 Media – 0.61
Protection – 0.62 Transparency – 0.51

 

The arrival of President Jair Bolsonaro to power in Brazil signalled radical changes in the atmosphere for expression in the country, which started well before he won the election.

Bolsonaro won the presidency on a platform of contempt for democratic principles and hostility towards minorities and civil society, threatening to ‘end activism’ and pledging to increase deforestation in the Amazon.[1]

Brazil has seen major declines in its XpA scores, including a 28% decline in freedom of expression measured over the last three years.

Thirty-five serious crimes were committed against journalists and communicators in 2018 – among the highest on record for the country. This includes 4 murders, 4 attempted murders, 26 death threats, and 1 kidnapping. Twelve of the serious crimes registered were committed against broadcast journalists – 34% of the total.[2]

Agents of the state commit the majority of crimes against communicators. This has consistently been the case over the seven years that ARTICLE 19 has monitored crimes against journalists in the country In 2018, state officials in Brazil were responsible for 18 violations (51%), 15 of which had politicians behind them. In seven cases (20%), the attacks took place following the communicator expressing criticisms or opinions.[3]

President Bolsonaro officially took power on 1 January 2019, but the changed political atmosphere took a dire toll throughout 2018. On 15 March, Marielle Franco – a lesbian Afro-Brazilian activist against police brutality and councilwoman – was shot dead.

The run-up to the election was also characterised by rising hostility and violence, in which journalists were often targeted; there were 137 aggressions against the press in 2018, including 62 physical attacks,[4] most of which were connected to coverage of rallies or other major election events. Political opponents shot at a bus carrying 28 journalists covering the former President’s campaign.[5] In October, Bolsonaro supporters beat and threatened to rape a journalist as she was leaving her polling station.[6] Five radio hosts were violently attacked in 2018, and three were killed. ‘This is so you will shut up and stop talking nonsense on the radio,’ two gunmen told Sandoval Braga Júnior when they burst into his studio, pinned him to the ground, and shot him in the leg.[7]

In many cases, perpetrators shared accusations and personal details about communicators on social media, encouraging attacks and harassment.[8]

Protests in Brazil continue to be met with violence. Security forces consistently use excessive force against protesters; fear of suffering violence is among the main reasons why people do not get involved in protests,[9] and both protesters and the journalists who cover protests are routinely injured.

In addition, restrictions on the right to protest have become more sophisticated – from prohibiting masks during protests to new bureaucratic requirements for prior notice.[10]

The mainstream media suffers from a lack of trust: only 35% feel that the news tells the truth about Brazil’s news.[11] During election campaigns, WhatsApp usurped traditional news outlets and became the preferred source of information for 61% of Bolsonaro voters.[12] WhatsApp was used to organise and circulate false information – designed, above all, to discredit journalists whose reporting was critical of Bolsonaro – together with smear campaigns.[13]

Impunity reigns in Brazil, as everywhere, and only looks to worsen with Bolsonaro’s disregard of human rights and tendency towards militarisation and hard justice.[14]

 

 

[1] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018

[2] Artigo 19, Violations Report 2018, July 2019, available at https://artigo19.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/24/files/2019/07/ViolationsReport-Brazil_18_EN_web2.pdf

[3] Artigo 19, Violations Report 2018, July 2019, available at https://artigo19.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/24/files/2019/07/ViolationsReport-Brazil_18_EN_web2.pdf

[4] Abraiji, More Than 130 Journalists Targeted in a Political-Electoral Context, 18 October 2018, available at https://ifex.org/more-than-130-journalists-targeted-in-a-political-electoral-context/

[5] Abraiji, Para Abraji, atentado contra caravana de Lula é gravíssimo, 28 March 2018, available at https://abraji.org.br/noticias/para-abraji-atentado-contra-caravana-de-lula-e-gravissimo

[6] Abraiji, Jornalista é agredida e ameaçada de estupro em Recife (PE), 9 October 2018, available at http://abraji.org.br/noticias/jornalista-e-agredida-e-ameacada-de-estupro-em-recife-pe

[7] Reporters without Borders, Another Local Radio Host Attacked in Brazil, 5th This Year, 27 September 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/another-local-radio-host-attacked-brazil-5th-year

[8] Abraiji, More Than 130 Journalists Targeted in a Political-Electoral Context, 18 October 2018, available at https://ifex.org/more-than-130-journalists-targeted-in-a-political-electoral-context/

[9] ARTICLE 19, Research into Protests in Brazil, forthcoming

[10] Artigo 19, Five Years Since 2013, April 2019, available at https://artigo19.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/24/files/2019/04/5-Years-From-June-2013.pdf

[11] ARTICLE 19, Research into Protests in Brazil, forthcoming

[12] Da Redação, ‘Datafolha: 6 em cada 10 eleitores de Bolsonaro se informam pelo WhatsApp’, Veja, 3 October 2018, available at https://veja.abril.com.br/politica/datafolha-eleitor-de-bolsonaro-e-o-que-mais-se-informa-por-redes-sociais/

[13] Reporters without Borders, ‘Authoritarianism and disinformation worsen the situation in Latin America’, World Press Freedom Index, 16 April 2019, available at https://rsf.org/en/2019-rsf-index-authoritarianism-and-disinformation-worsen-situation-latin-america

[14] ARTIGO 19, ARTIGO 19 lança relatório especial sobre impunidade em homicídios de comunicadores no Brasil, 8 November 2018, available at https://artigo19.org/blog/2018/11/08/artigo-19-lanca-relatorio-especial-sobre-impunidade-em-homicidios-de-comunicadores-no-brasil/