Since Luiz Ignácio "Lula" da Silva became president, the press freedom situation has remained satisfactory overall. Even so, some serious violations have occurred, including the murder of two journalists.
Two more journalists were killed in the course of their work in 2003, after Tim Lopes and Sávio Brandão in 2002. Like them, photographer Luiz Antônio Costa was murdered by criminals. Although it was not a gangland-style killing, it showed that the media too are victims of the violence endemic in the country’s big cities. The murder of Nicanor Linhares Batista was clearly connected with his radio broadcasts attacking corruption in local government. Police said he could have been killed on the orders of two local officials whose private life he had criticised.
Impunity for those who kill journalists is receding in some cases. Three people were arrested in connection with the murder of Sávio Brandão, including the man who gave the order, and the killer was sentenced to 18 years in jail. Mozart Costa Brasil was also given an 18-year sentence for the January 1998 killing of another journalist, Manuel Leal de Oliveira. However, Costa Brasil was freed on 23 December under a writ of habeas corpus. Leal de Oliveira’s son said the speed with which the appeal had been dealt with and the date of the release cast doubt on the validity of the ruling.
In 2002 a campaign by the Brazilian media was probably responsible for the arrest of Tim Lopes’ killers, who were highly-organised gangsters. These efforts must be continued to force the authorities to ensure justice is done in similar cases.
The media should demand the repeal of the 1967 press law, a hangover from the military dictatorship, under which a journalist was given a prison sentence for the first time in many years. At a conference on access to information in September, Marco Aurélio Mello, former chairman of the federal supreme court, said there were still about 150 offences damaging to the media in the criminal code.
Two journalists killed
Nicanor Linhares Batista, owner of Radio Vale do Jaguaribe in Limoeiro do Norte, in the northern state of Ceará, was shot dead by two men on 30 June 2003 as he was recording the "Political Meeting" programme, known for its controversial stance and during which he often condemned local politicians and officials. On 20 October state public security official Wilson Nascimento and Guilherme Soares, one of the examining magistrates in charge of the case, told a press conference that police had completed their investigation. They said eight people were wanted for questioning and five had been arrested, including Francisco Lidenor de Jesus Moura Júnior, one of the two killers.
In an interview with the daily Diario de Nordeste on 10 October, he admitted firing eight of the 11 shots and said the other gunman, Vanderley dos Santos Nogueira, had promised to pay him 5,000 reais (1,500 euros) for the murder although he had not told him the motive. Soares said federal judge José Maria Lucena and his wife Arivan Lucena, the mayor of Limoeiro do Norte, were suspected of ordering the killing but that because of their public status, the Brasilia High Court had to conduct the investigation. He said there was "animosity" between the mayor and the journalist, who had backed her rival in the 2000 municipal elections. Soares stressed that Linhares Batista had "gone beyond ordinary criticism", making personal attacks on Lucena and her relationship with her husband.
Luiz Antônio Costa, a freelance photographer, was shot and injured on 23 July as he was covering the occupation of land at a Volkswagen plant by homeless people from the Sem Terra movement in São Bernardo do Campo, São Paulo state, for the weekly Época. He died after being taken to hospital and the gunman escaped. On 30 July police arrested two suspects: Alexandre Silvério Sinza and Renato dos Santos Lira, who had taken part in a hold-up at a fuel station near the occupied site. Dos Santos Lira admitted firing at the journalist because he thought he had taken pictures of them during the hold-up. The second suspect, who was badly hurt when arrested, was taken to hospital. A third man involved in the shooting is still on the run.
New information on journalists killed before 2003
João Arcanjo Ribeiro, a former Brazilian police officer, was arrested in Uruguay on 15 April 2003 and charged with using forgeries. He is suspected of being behind the murder of Sávio Brandão, owner of the daily Folha do Estado in Cuiabá, in the south-western state of Mato Grosso, on 30 September 2002 and of being a kingpin of organised crime and drug trafficking in the state. Brazil called for his extradition. On 14 September Hércules de Araujo Agostinho was arrested in Rondônia state, western Brazil. A former military police officer, he was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment on 12 December for killing the journalist.
Two other suspects were also arrested. Célio Alves de Souza, who followed Brandão shortly before the murder, was arrested in October 2002. Fernando Barbosa Belo, who is believed to have driven the motorbike carrying the killer, was arrested on 10 September 2003 in the Italian city of Florence, where he fled in November 2002. A third man, João Leite, is thought to have acted as go-between for Ribeiro and the killers. Folha do Estado had often condemned Ribeiro as a gangster, describing him as "the Al Capone of Mato Grosso".
Mozart Costa Brasil, who was accused of shooting Manuel Leal de Oliveira, publisher of the weekly A Região in Itabuna, Bahia state, was convicted by the Itabuna court on 27 September and jailed for 18 years. The case against Thomaz Iracy Moisés Guedes, suspected of driving the van carrying the killers, was dropped for lack of evidence.
The chief witness in the case, who identified Costa Brasil, said she did not see Guedes in the van. She told the court she had received death threats after saying she would give evidence. She also identified the other killer, Marcone Sarmento, who turned himself in on 14 October and was immediately locked up. Costa Brasil was freed on 23 December after a judge accepted a habeas corpus application. Two witnesses say they have received further threats since the trial.
Leal de Oliveira was killed on 14 January 1998 after accusing the city mayor, Fernando Gomes, of involvement in corruption. Bahia state civil police closed their investigation in September 1998 without making any arrests, or even questioning Gomes. The case was reopened in May 2000 following revelations in the regional daily A Tarde.
A journalist imprisoned
Alvanir Ferreira Avelino of the daily Dois Estados was arrested at his home in Campos, Rio de Janeiro state, on 29 August 2003 and taken to Carlos Tinoco da Fonseca jail. He had been sentenced in 2001 to ten and a half months of "part-time" prison for a "crime of opinion" under the press law passed by the military dictatorship in 1967.
His wife, Viviane Terra de Avelino, said he was held for one day a week in a cell with about 15 other prisoners. Ferreira Avelino was convicted after several libel complaints were brought against him in 1999 by Alexandre Mesquita, a magistrate in the town of Miracema. He had published a series of reports criticising the magistrate, and in particular accusing him of abuse of authority. He was freed on 10 September on the orders of Rio de Janeiro court following an appeal. A higher court later suspended the prison sentence.
Two journalists arrested
Gabriela Temer and Marco Antonio Cavalcanti, a reporter and photographer with the daily O Globo, were arrested by two military police officers on 27 May as they were covering violence in the Barra da Tijuca neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro. They were taken to a police station by force and the officers tried to seize Cavalcanti’s camera.
Six journalists physically attacked
Dilmércio Daleffe, correspondent of the daily Gazeta do Povo in Campo Mourão, in southern Paraná state, was interviewing the mayor of Farol about a case of nepotism on 25 February 2003 when a group of about 12 people, including the mayor’s private secretary, burst into his office and assaulted the reporter.
On 19 November Daleffe and Richard Rogers Gonçalves, a cameraman from TV Carajás, were set upon by activists of the Sem Terra homeless movement in Luiziania, Paraná, who had been squatting land there since the end of April. The activists also prevented TV Carajás reporter Marcos de Souza, Sid Sauer Walter of the Boca Santa web site and Hermes Hildebrand of the daily Tribuna do Interior from doing their job. The journalists were covering the arrival of four farm workers who had come to plant soya beans on the occupied site. The Sem Terra organisers in Paraná issued a press release regretting the incident.
Jorge Nunes, a freelance photojournalist and head of the Brazilian Media Information Centre, was attacked by a police officer on 4 December while covering a demonstration by students from the Cidade Nova state school in Rio de Janeiro. The officer prevented him from taking pictures of the protesters, who were demonstrating outside the city council offices, and tried to grab his camera. Nunes, who was slightly hurt, managed to get away with the students’ help and immediately filed a complaint at a nearby police station.
Harassment and obstruction
Álvaro Lins, the civil police chief for Rio de Janeiro state, banned his senior officers from giving media interviews on 11 March, which meant the police press office was journalists’ only source of information.
The Brasilia journalists’ union issued a statement signed by 71 political reporters on 29 March. It condemned "serious obstruction" to their work by federal officials, such as failure to provide information on ministers’ meetings and other activities. The statement also expressed concern about increasingly stringent restrictions on photographers and cameramen covering official events - while government film and photo staff were given a free hand.
On 19 September a federal judge in São Paulo issued an injunction against the showing of the "Super Sunday" programme on the privately-owned national TV station SBT two days later. The São Paulo federal court had called for the programme to be suspended for a month and the station heavily fined. The justice minister said he regretted the ruling, which was akin to censorship.
On 7 September "Super Sunday" had put out a bogus interview in which actors posing as members of a dangerous gang operating in Saõ Paulo made death threats against local politicians. The actors said afterwards that they had been paid 150 reais (about 50 euros) for their roles. The communications ministry opened an inquiry for "incitement to crime", with possible sanctions ranging from a fine to the suspension or withdrawal of the station’s broadcasting licence.