Area: 8,547,400 sq.km.
Language: Brazilian Portuguese
Head of state: President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva
Violence against the media continued in 2004 and two journalists were killed (as in 2002 and 2003), showing once again that journalism is still a dangerous business outside major cities. Two blunders by President Lula made headlines and raised serious questions about his view of press freedom.
The murder of two journalists, one on the border with Paraguay and the other in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, highlighted the fact that working as a journalist outside the big cities is still very risky.
The killing of Samuel Román on 20 April in Coronel Sapucaia (Mato Grosso do Sul state) was said by an official enquiry to have been ordered by the town’s mayor, who Roman had criticised on radio station Conquista FM. The suspected killer of José Carlos Araújo four days later in Timbaúba (Pernambuco state), a petty criminal the journalist had denounced on Radio Timbáuba FM, was arrested.
The two cases showed that at local level, democracy and the rule of law are still badly flawed. The national media, based in the major cities, are rarely targeted by such violence. A third journalist, Jorge Lourenço dos Santos, was killed in Alagoas state on 11 July but it was not clear if this was due to his work at the community radio station Criativa FM or because of his political activities.
President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva was the source of two apparent efforts to undermine press freedom. The government announced on 11 May the deportation of New York Times reporter Larry Rohter after he wrote that Brazilians were wondering if "their president’s predilection for strong drink is affecting his performance in office." Loud national and international protests persuaded the president to swallow his pride and cancel the expulsion order three days later.
In early August, Lula sent a bill to congress to set up journalism councils to "guide, discipline and monitor the profession" and "see that ethical principles and discipline are strictly enforced." Journalists would be forced to register with the councils, which could ban them from working if they made serious errors. The bill was harshly criticised inside the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) and reminded many Brazilians of press censorship under the 1964-85 military dictatorship. The bill was eventually rejected by the Chamber of Deputies on 15 December with the help of PT members.
The electoral law once again targeted the media during the 3 and 31 October local elections, allowing electoral judges to censor material that harmed the reputation of candidates. It was used three times in this way, including in Marília (São Paulo state) where the Diario de Marília was banned from printing reports about the town’s mayor after saying he had abused his power. The 1967 press law, a legacy of the military regime allowing for imprisonment for press offences and in contradiction with international norms, still needs to be repealed.
The year ended on a hopeful note, though, when a reform of the legal system, under discussion for 13 years, was approved on 8 December. It said investigation of torture or murders by gangsters was the job of federal not local officials, who are more likely to be pressured in probes into the killings of journalists.
2 journalists were killed
and 5 media censured