The murder of journalist Ajuricaba Monassa near Rio de Janeiro in July and a bid to kill a community radio presenter in May continued the violence against local media. Threats and censorship of media outlets accompanied the general election campaign in October.
Freelance journalist Ajuricaba Monassa de Paula, 73, was beaten to death by town councillor Osvaldo Vivas in Guapirimim (Rio de Janeiro state) on 24 July because he had reported on financial irregularities in the town government. Community radio presenter Camelo Luis de Sá escaped an attempt by the mayor’s son in the northeastern town of Quiterianópolis to shoot him dead while he was on the air in May.
The risk of reprisal is still high in the country’s media, especially for local radio stations and papers. Maria Mazzei, of the daily O Dia, had to go into hiding in late August for revealing a racket in corpses by organised crime in the Rio area. Local police and courts often react slowly and police are sometimes themselves involved in threats and efforts to intimidate. A complaint filed on 7 June by environmentalist Vilmar Berna, editor of Jornal do Meio Ambiente, in Niterói (Rio de Janeiro state), after repeated death threats was not dealt with for more than a month and only after the national daily A Folha de São Paulo carried an article about the case.
Three heavily-armed and hooded men broke into the newsroom of the São Paulo daily Imprensa Livre, roughed up seven staff members and burned 3,000 copies of the May 18 issue which contained an article about the riots in the city sparked by the criminal group First Commando of the City (PCC). About 40 cases of threats and physical attacks and the ransacking of four media offices were recorded during the year.
A turbulent campaign
The national press was also involved in a scandal just before the October general elections, when Gedimar Passos, an activist of outgoing President Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva’s Labour Party, was arrested on 15 September in a São Paulo hotel with a briefcase containing €600,000, which was to be used to buy a compromising file about the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSDB) and its leader, Geraldo Alckmin, who was beaten by Lula at the 29 October election.
Two days after this second round of the presidential vote, three journalists of the weekly Veja were summoned by federal police in São Paulo and pressured to reveal their sources in the matter. The daily A Folha de São Paulo said on 8 November that phones in its Brasilia offices were being tapped by federal police as part of the scandal over the file. Police wanted to know which journalists had had the slightest contact with Passos.
The election campaign also hit local journalists. Diario de Marilia, based in Marilia (São Paulo state) was physically attacked on 1 October by supporters of former mayor Abelardo Camarinha and his son, a local deputy. The two were already suspected of organising an arson attack on the paper’s offices on 8 September 2005. Between August and October 2006, regional and federal election authorities gave in to demands by candidates for senator, deputy or governor to ban publication or seize material from media outlets or news websites in the states of Amapá, Minas Gerais, Paraná and the Federal District.
Despite these obstacles and the continuance of the 1967 press law inherited from the military dictatorship that allows imprisonment for media offences, the federal government promised to respect freedom of expression. President Lula signed the Inter American Press Association’s Declaration of Chapultepec on press freedom on 3 May. He vetoed on 26 July a proposed law to regulate journalism by requiring journalists to have a diploma and belong to a journalism institute. The issue has divided the country’s media and the two highest federal courts disagree on the diploma requirement. The High Court on 8 November voted for it and the Federal Supreme Court, which is above it, unanimously rejected it two weeks later.
A worrying precedent
Brazil’s blogosphere was furious at the closure of the blog “Repiquete no meio do mundo." Federal justice officials had ordered the editor of the blog on 17 August to remove a cartoon of a senate candidate. The blog’s Brazilian host, UOL, then decided of its own accord to shut down the blog, a worrying precedent because it may encourage local Internet service providers to censor online publications regardless of a court decision.