CILENE VICTOR / Brazilian Journalist, researcher and full professor at Metodista University
In authoritarian states the activities of persons in exile are considered a threat to the regime they have established themselves and resorts to the method of oppression in order to create problems for them.
Many believe that armed confl icts and wars coverage is intensely more dangerous for journalists than other types of reporting. Likewise, it is believed that journalists are exposed to state violence only under authoritarian regimes. There is no doubt that media professionals are not safe in reporting wars and violent confl icts and working under totalitarian regimes, but contrarily to public perception, democracies have become unsafe for journalists, photographers and other media workers as well.
In Brazilian democracy, for example, professionals and the press have been daily persecuted, harassed and defamed. The main aggressor is President Jair Bolsonaro, who has female journalists as one of his main targets, harassing them during live interviews, aiming to intimidate, embarrass and public humiliate them.
In this case, we are not talking about perception or accusations without proof or substantial data. The various forms of violence against journalists have grown exponentially in the country. Several civil society organizations (CSOs) and journalist unions have gathered compiling data on this practice of intimidation and press freedom violation. Among the CSOs is the National Federation of Brazilian Journalists (FENAJ), institution that has been gathering data on violence and other threats to the press since the 1990s.
The latest edition of the Report on Violence against Journalists and Press Freedom in Brazil, published by FENAJ, shows that, in 2020, there were 428 cases of attacks against journalists, which corresponds to an increase of 105.77% compared to 2019, when 208 cases were registered. According to FENAJ, 2020 was the most violent year for the press since the 1990s, when the historic series of the report started.
Also, according to the report, of 428 cases, President Jair Bolsonaro was the main aggressor in 175 cases, which is equivalent to 40.89% of the total. Next come the public employees including directors of the Brazilian Communication Company (EBC), with 86 cases (20.09%), politicians, 39 (9.11%), Internet users, 21 (4.91), civilians, with 18 cases (4.21), judges/prosecutors/, with 17 (3.97%). The police and protesters were each responsible for 14 cases (3.27%).
Among other aggressors are media businessmen, hackers, security guards. Traffi ckers were responsible for 1 registered case (0.23%).
These numbers demand a deep understanding of the complexity of violence and its ramifi cations against the press, which has become structural, adopted as a political tactic. As the government is pressured to respond to the country’s real problems, such as unemployment, hunger and extreme poverty, in addition to control the pandemic, it becomes more aggressive. The attacks aim to discredit the press – one of the worst threats to democracies. The attacks committed by the president against the press grow as he fi nds himself pressured for not having controlled the progress of the pandemic in the country, for having delayed the purchase of vaccines and for taking a stand against sanitary measures and scientifi c advice, and the suspicions of irregularities his government and in the political mandate of his three sons.
One example was the verbal aggression against the young journalist Victoria Abel, from Radio CBN. On June 25, in Brasília (capital), the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPI), set up to investigate the government’s role in the pandemic, which was not only carried out because of this formal complaint. On the same day, Bolsonaro participated in an event in Sorocaba, state of São Paulo.
When asked by Victoria Abel about the purchase of Covaxin vaccine, the president verbally attacked her several times: “You again? You need to go back to university. You need to go back to school, to kindergarten. You need to be born again. Ridiculous! Where do you work?”. In aggressive gestures, he tried to identify to which press vehicle journalist works for.
An emblematic case involved the journalist Patrícia Campos Mello, from Folha de S.Paulo newspaper. Author of article that reported a fraudulent scheme of the massive fake news dissemination by WhatsApp, at the end of 2018, the year of Bolsonaro’s electoral victory and, therefore, before he took office, the journalist became constantly and intensely persecuted by the president, his sons and supporters. Among the attacks, one of sexual nature took large proportions on social media, taking sexual harassment to the extreme and resulting in death threats. Patrícia Campos Mello, who covered wars and conflicts in various parts of the world, had to resort to bodyguards for a while.
The increase in violence and violations of press freedom allude to a past that once again threatens Brazilian democratic institutions. The government is militarized as it has never been in a democracy. In 2020, there were 6,157 militaries occupying civilian positions in the government. One of these militaries and perpetrators of several attacks against journalists was Eduardo Pazuello, minister of Health for 10 months, from May 2020 to March 2021. Questioned by the neglect and serious errors in dealing with the pandemic, such as the lack of oxygen in hospitals in Amazonas, Pazuello responded with aggression and disqualification of press work. Active military, the general participated in political acts in support to Bolsonaro, which is prohibited for an active military. Although the Armed Forces discussed whether or not he would be punished, nothing happened.
Bolsonaro, a retired army captain, never hid his authoritarian profile and his admiration for dictators. In 2016, during President Dilma Rousseff impeachment procedures, Bolsonaro, then federal deputy, voted for the president’s impeachment and during the vote he paid homage to Colonel Carlos Brilhante Ustra, who from 1970 to 1975 headed one of the most repressive institutions of the military regime (1964-1981) in the country. Ustra had been President Dilma’storturer; she was arrested in 1970 and held as a political prisoner for her involvement with resistance movements.
The past threatens again, but we have seen that tragedies are not sudden. They are gradually built up. Bolsonaro is the result of several mistakes, such as the lack of control and accountability on the part of large international corporations that operate social media, messaging apps and streaming platforms. From them, not only disinformation and misinformation are propagated with speed and intensity, but also hate speeches against democratic institutions and the press, in particular. Bolsonaro is the result of the anti-political and anti-left ideologies. He is the result of the rise of far-right, which threatens Brazil and several other parts of the world.
Bolsonaro won’t give up. For the 2022 elections, the president left his warning: “I have three alternatives for my future: being arrested, killed or victory”.
On September 7, celebration of Brazil’s Independence, Bolsonaro convened and participated in events with his supporters. On that occasion, he made threats to democratic institutions and part of his supporters believed and celebrated the possibility that the president could declare state of siege. His supporters have been asking for military intervention, the closing of the Supreme Court and the return of AI-5 (Institutional Act Number Five), which suffocated political civil rights in Brazil and made the dictatorship regime even more oppressive. Polls reveal that Bolsonaro’s rejection is 64%, but he is not yet a small concern. The militarization of a civil government must be treated as a daily warning, an understanding that the past is once
again threatening the present and future of Brazilian democracy.
Taking down Bolsonaro may not be all that difficult, but his ideology “bolsonarismo” – which has been compared to fascism needs to be brought down altogether. If we don’t combat them both, a baton will be passed by the president to his supporters, including their voters, and the violence against journalists will be perpetuated.
It is crucial to draw the world’s attention to the violence against journalists in Brazil, before it becomes naturalized and underestimated, since it is already perpetrated and endorsed by the President of the Republic.
BRAZIL IS NOT AN ISOLATED CASE
The Brazilian conjuncture is part of a worldwide reality, as we can see in the maps of violence against media professionals. In 2018, UNESCO launched the Observatory of Killed Journalists, a database that gathers information since 1993 on the judicial investigations of each murder, with the purpose of denouncing and combating chronic impunity for these crimes. This initiative is in line with UNESCO’s role to ensure the monitoring of progress and
effectiveness of e 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s Objective 16, unanimously adopted by all 193 UN Member States in September 2015.
The SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Effective Institutions – aims to “promote peaceful societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, inclusive and accountable institutions at all levels”. According to UNESCO, the emphasis is on target goal 16.10, which aims to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international and inclusive agreements”, and its indicator 16.10.1 “Number of verified cases of murders, kidnappings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and torture of journalists, associated media personnel, union members and human rights defenders in the last 12 months”.
Despite international and local protocols, agendas and commitments, violence against journalists has been a constant threat. According to the latest report from UNESCO Observatory’s, Intensified Attacks, New Defences, between 2018 and 2019, 156 journalists were murdered. Although there was a drop in the number of murders in 2019, 57, the lowest in a decade, other forms of violence against journalists, women in particular, have grown, such as attacks and harassment on the internet, as we have seen in Brazil. Another fact that is connected with this discussion was the predominance of murders in countries without wars or armed conflicts, revealing that political coverage, corruption and crimes have been more dangerous than war coverage. From the total of 57 murders, 22 happened in Latin America and the Caribbean, 15 in Asia-Pacific and 10 in Arab countries.
Data from the Shadow Report on the Implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 16.10.1 in Latin America in 2020, presented as “an independent assessment prepared by Voces del Sur for the 2021 United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development”, show that Voces del Sur (VdS) registered 3350 alerts in 2020, considering the focus on 13 countries in the region. The major perpetrator of violence against journalists, media outlets and press freedom was the state, as shown in detail by the images below (VdS).
According to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), between 1992 and 2021, 2.077 journalists and media professionals were killed, being 1.962 journalists, 1.400 of them with confirmed motives for their deaths. The database has some important crossing information filters, but it only applies to this number of 1.400, whose reasons for the deaths have been checked. From that total, 308 died in crossfires, with 92 acting as freelancers and 216 as
formal employees; 187 on dangerous missions and 894 murdered.
In addition to violence, which has resulted in murder, imprisonment and torture, journalists have been plagued by PTSD and moral wound. Reporters Without Borders’ handbook, Saftey Guide for Journalists – a handbook for reporters in high-risk environments, is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive documents on guidelines that journalists need to follow when covering humanitarian tragedies such as wars, armed conflicts, disasters and pandemic.
We have elements to think about the complexity of Covid-19 coverage, including journalists’ physical and emotional security, in the face of the humanitarian crisis that was established alongside with the pandemic in many countries, such as in Brazil, making even more pressure on media professionals.
- CILENE VICTOR / She is a Brazilian Journalist, researcher and full professor at Metodista University, where is the leader of the workgroup Humanitarian Journalism and Media
Interventions. As a journalist, she has covered humanitarian issues, including activities as an international envoy to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey, Poland, France,
Belgium, Germany, Japan and Ecuador. She has PhD in Public Health (USP), a post-doctorate in Planning and Territorial Management.