Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about an increase in legal proceedings against media and journalists since the start of the year. These have included preventive censorship, fines and even a threat of imprisonment for lack of a degree. The organisation also condemned an armed attack on a TV presenter in the western city of Porto Velho on 4 January.
“This legal hounding of the media at both the federal and state level, and the threats by gunmen against a TV journalist who investigates sensitive subjects are symptoms of the continuing fragility of press freedom in Brazil,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Last year, a journalist was murdered while the press was the target of many attacks and legal procedures in the run-up to the elections in October.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We fear that history will repeat itself as the 2008 municipal elections approach, and we call on the federal authorities to do what is necessary to guarantee freedom of information as required by the constitution and the Chapultepec Declaration which President Lula signed on 3 May of last year.”
Five individuals armed with revolvers burst into the home of TV presenter Domingues Júnior of local station Rede TV Rondônia in the Rondônia state capital of Porto Velho on 4 January, beating Júnior, threatening his family, stealing items of value and taking a car and a motorcycle as they left. Júnior, who had to be hospitalised, said the attack was in reprisal for his criticism of vote-buying and federal police corruption in his programme, “Fala Rondônia.” He had been receiving death threats by e-mail since December.
As well as this physical attack on a journalist, press freedom has been threatened by several absurd legal decisions since the start of the year. Francisco Peçanha Martins, the president of the Superior Court of Justice (STJ), one of the two highest federal courts, confirmed on 25 January that the weekly Época, which is owned by the Editora Globo group, would have to pay 410,000 reals (150,000 euros) in damages to Estevam and Sônia Hernandes, a husband-and-wife team that heads an evangelical church called Renascer em Cristo (Born Again in Christ).
The couple, who have been charged with fraud and tax evasion, were arrested on arrival in the United States on 9 January in possession of 56,000 dollars in cash which they had not declared to US customs. Época had been covering Renascer em Cristo’s questionable financial practices since 2002.
The courts have ruled twice in the couple’s favour, at both the lower and appeal level. Editora Globo agreed on 26 January to pay a legal deposit of 72,000 euros but the courts are continuing to press for payment of the full amount of damages. The group has filed another appeal but, under Brazilian law, implementation of the sentence is not suspended pending the outcome.
The Regional Electoral Court (TRE) in the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul issued a preventive censorship order on 26 January against the regional daily O Correio do Estado, banning it from referring to the state governor’s son, André Puccinelli Jr, who has been charged in connection with a case of alleged electoral fraud. Each mention of his name in violation of the order is punishable by a fine of 50,000 reals (18,500 euros) under the censorship order, which also applies to other news media.
Two days after the TRE issued its order, O Correio do Estado defied it by publishing an interview with Puccinelli in which he rejected the accusations against him. The newspaper has appealed against the order but the appeal court’s ruling, which was due on 5 February, has still not been issued.
Silvério Netto of radio Total FM in the eastern state of Minas Gerais was briefly detained in December on the orders of Richard Fernando Silva, a judge he had interviewed, for failing to produce evidence that he is qualified to be a journalist, despite the fact that the Federal Supreme Court (STF), Brazil’s highest court, ruled on 21 November that journalists do not have to have a degree in order to work.
Netto appeared before a court presided by Silva, his accuser, and was released pending appeal. The appeal hearing, set for 26 February, is also to be presided by Silva.
Finally, in an unprecedented move on 25 January, President Lula’s former press secretary Luiz Gushiken, who is a suspect in a case of alleged embezzlement, sent a list of journalists “liable to attack my honour” to the directorate of federal police. The list includes Leonardo Attuch of the news weekly IstoÉ, Lauro Jardim and Diogo Mainardi of the weekly Veja and journalists working for the weekly Carta Capital.