Brazil: Media freedom at crisis point as Government fails to protect journalists

Brazil: Media freedom at crisis point as Government fails to protect journalists -

President Jair Bolsonaro.Photo: Isac Nóbrega/PR

ARTICLE 19 has warned that the situation for journalists is at crisis level in Brazil as the Government fails to protect journalists from threats and attacks by Bolsonaro supporters.

The warning comes after three media outlets, Globo, Folha, and Metropoles, have announced that their journalists will no longer be able to report from the presidential residence in Brasilia due to the high risk of attacks from supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro.

In public statements, the media companies reported that a group of Bolsonaro supporters are attempting to intimidate journalists who are reporting at the presidential residence. Separated only by a small grid, the Bolsonaro supporters are able to verbally abuse, threaten and doxxing journalists who are trying to report on the President’s actions. The Union of Professional Journalists in Brasilia has said that it has received dozens of complaints from its members about the threats they face. As the authorities are failing to protect reporters, the media outlets have had no choice but to stop reporting from the presidential residence.

Director of ARTICLE 19 South America, Denise Dora said:

“The decision to remove journalists from the presidential residence for their own safety is unprecedented, and shows that press freedom in Brazil is in crisis.

“Journalists and communicators are being attacked with the impunity by supporters of the President. The authorities’ failure to take action is emboldening those who want to silence the media.

“These are not isolated incidents but a systematic and ongoing assault on those who are trying to hold the government to account during the worst health crisis for decades. Now more than ever, we need a free and independent media. The authorities must protect journalists and bring those responsible for attacks to justice.”

ARTICLE 19, and other press freedom organisations have called out the President and Government’s direct role in the increase of attacks on journalists:

“The president himself and members of his government have been driving this escalation. Both by direct action, when they insult, make verbal and virtual attacks and institutional threats to media groups and professionals, as well as by failing to fulfil the duties of the positions they occupy by omitting or minimising violence practiced in their name.”

Journalists attacked on World Press Freedom Day

The threatening behaviour at the presidential residence is part of an ongoing pattern of attacks on journalists by the President’s supporters.

On May 3, World Press Freedom day, at least two journalists, a photographer and a driver for the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo were kicked, punched and verbally abused by at a demonstration attended by the President. The demonstration was defending anti-democratic and unconstitutional guidelines, such as the closure of the National Congress and the Supreme Federal Court (STF).

Two days later, Bolsonaro called the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper a ‘scoundrel’ and a liar and told journalists to ‘shut up’.

Following Bolsonaro’s election in October 2018, ARTICLE 19 warned that the country was facing a critical moment after a campaign that was “marked by threats against political opponents, against media and journalists, and against NGO and human rights defenders”.

Since then the situation for freedom of expression has got worse in Brazil. During the coronavirus pandemic, it is vital that the media are able to hold the government to account. The attacks on journalists must stop.