In a debate held on August 18 at the Faculty of Law of the University of São Paulo, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS, Catalina Botero, and the former UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, spoke of the importance of guaranteeing the right to free expression. They highlighted the position of international bodies regarding the protection that should be given to journalists and communicators in general in covering of social protest.
“Communicators who are covering social protest have the right to prevent the use of violence because the simple fact that a demonstration is documented helps to avoid state repression against protesters. In addition, as more people are documenting a protest, society will have a more pluralistic vision of this event” said Catalina.
The OAS rapporteur for freedom of expression stressed that, according to the organization, anyone who is documenting a protest, even with cell phone, must enjoy this protection. This includes, among others, the right not to be detained for documenting a protest and the right not to have their material captured or seized. “There is no legitimate reason or purpose for that law enforcement keep the registration material,” she said.
Frank La Rue noted that such protection it is not a privilege but a right of society itself. “Journalists facilitate access to information and the right of every society to be informed” he explained, noting that this information also follows the “right to participate in political life of a country.”
The Regional Advisor for Communication and Information of UNESCO to Mercosur and Chile, Guilherme Canela, who also attended the debate, noted that the right to freedom of expression also assumes the right to seek information and receive information. “We have here also the idea of public information, diversity and plurality to ensure democracy and the voice of minorities” he added.
However, many protesters in the streets have been repressed and communicators have suffered repression by the security forces. Part of the discourse that legitimizes this practice has been propagated in Brazil by the means of mass communication, reasoned Ana Claudia Mielke of Intervozes, an organization that promotes the democratization of communication. “In this sense, our freedom of speech is also being curtailed by the economic concentration of the media in the country, which prevents a variety of discourses” she said.
Paula Martins, executive director of ARTICLE 19 for South America, said it is not only in the context of protests that communicators and advocates fall victim to various types of violence and impediments to developing their work. “They also often face other violations such as physical and verbal aggression, seizure and damage to equipment, economic pressures, corporate censorship, lack of support of the media, lack of working equipment and proper safety, disrespect and other forms of intimidation. And then there are the extreme cases, such as death threats and murders. These problems compromise, and more, the exercise of freedom of speech in our country” she said.
Besides the subject of protests and violence against journalists, the debate “Freedom of Expression—the media, the networks and on the streets” also addressed issues such as freedom of expression on the internet, the protection of vulnerable groups — such as children and adolescents — via mass communication, and education policies to the media. The activity was organized by the NGOs ARTICLE 19 and Intervozes.