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Brazil - Annual Report 2008

Area: 8,547,400
Population: 189,323,000.
Language: Portuguese.
Head of state: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Two journalists were killed in 2007 but only one died because of his job. The media is still the target of violence and death threats and has to cope with preventive censorship. Plans are afoot to abolish the 1967 press law passed under the military dictatorship.

Journalist Luiz Barbon Filho was killed by two motorcycle gunmen in Porto Ferreira (São Paulo state) on 5 May 2007 after criticising local officials. As a columnist on the weekly Jornal do Porto and the daily JC Regional, he had accused the heads of four firms and five local officials of being involved in the sexual abuse of teenagers in 2003. The daily A Folha de São Paulo reported that several military police had been questioned as suspects in the journalist’s murder.

The shooting death of freelance photographer Robson Barbosa Bezerra in Rio de Janeiro on 8 February was not thought to be linked to his work. He had been threatened and attacked and complaints had been filed against him for “spousal violence” and for a row with a colleague. Police did not establish a motive.

Targets of organised crime

A motorcyclist shot and wounded João Alckmin, presenter of “ShowTime” on Rádio Piratininga, in the street in São José dos Campos (São Paulo state) on 22 November. The journalist, a cousin of Geraldo Alckmin, who stood against Président Lula at the last presidential election, had been investigating criminal control of the gaming industry. He was also the intended target of a shooting attack on 5 July when the gunman mistook someone else for him. He was given police protection after the November attack.

Four gangsters, including two minors, were arrested for the apparently non-political shooting in Brasilia on 27 September of Amaury Ribeiro Júnior, of the daily Correio Braziliense. In January, five armed men burst into the home of Domingues Júnior, presenter for the local station Rede TV Rondônia in the western city of Porto Velho, and threatened and robbed him. He said the attack was because of his exposure of vote-buying and corruption by federal police which had already brought him death threats. The offices of the fortnightly Tribuna do Povo in Várzea da Palma, in the eastern state of Minas Gerais, were seriously damaged in a deliberately-set fire on 9 April. The paper had reported on embezzlement by local officials.

Court-ordered censorship

The media also has to face court-ordered “preventive” censorship, such as when the regional elections court in the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul banned the regional daily O Correio do Estado on 26 January from mentioning André Puccinelli Jr, son of the state governor, who had been charged with electoral fraud. The ban, also applicable to other media outlets, carried a fine of €18,500 for every time his name was mentioned.

A court in the southern state of Santa Catarina banned the daily Gazeta de Joinville on 9 February from mentioning the name of Joinville mayor Marco Tebaldi, his wife and a former Miss Brazil, Taiza Thomsen, who the paper had reported the governor was having an affair with. The ban carried a €775 fine for each mention.

A court in São Paulo state banned the weekly Folha de Vinhedo on 15 June from printing an interview with the former legal secretary of the town of Vinhedo, Paulo Cabral, who accused local officials of corruption. The ban carried a fine of €200 for each copy of the paper printed. An appeals court cancelled it in January 2008.

Mayor João Henrique of the northeastern city of Salvador de Bahia obtained a court ban on 21 June on the Metrópole group (a radio station, a magazine, a website and a blog) from mentioning his name after the first (free) issue of the magazine appeared with a cartoon of him on the front page. Violations carried a fine of €77,000. The court also ordered seizure of 30,000 copies of the magazine. An appeal courts struck down the sentence, citing freedom of expression.

End of the 1967 press law?

Poor relations between the federal government and some of the media who were hostile to President Lula improved in 2007, but some of the president’s supporters hit out at the media. His former communications secretary, Luiz Gushiken, suspected of embezzlement, gave federal police on 25 January a list of journalists “likely to harm (his) reputation.” The list included Leonardo Attuch, of the weekly IstoÉ, Lauro Jardim and Diogo Mainardi, of the weekly Veja, and journalists on the weekly Carta Capital. The national commission of President Lula’s Workers Party called on party supporters on 31 July to campaign against some media outlets suspected of “playing the opposition’s game,” including the TV Globo network and the daily papers Correio Braziliense, O Estado de São Paulo, O Globo and A Folha de São Paulo.

Despite this, pro-government federal deputy Miro Teixeira presented a bill in December to amend the 1967 press law (passed under the 1964-87 military dictatorship) to end prison sentences for “insults” and “defamation.”

Online excesses

Brazil has one of the world’s largest communities of Internet users and the government regulates online traffic, with often disproportionate measures. A São Paulo court ordered an Internet service provider (ISP) to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube for a week to allow it to remove a video of two well-known people. Orkut, the Brazilian version of the social networking site Facebook, faced court action for allegedly carrying racist, paedophile and homophobic material. Orkut is owned by Google and a São Paulo court wants to shut it down.

Brazil hosted the UN-sponsored worldwide Internet Governance Forum in 2007, at which delegates from many countries said they did not want ICANN, an American society, to control the Internet.

Translations available

Introduction Americas - Annual Report 2008
Central America
Dominican Republic
United States

by continent
Preface : Between impotence, cowardice and duplicity
Introduction : Press freedom faces dangerous elections and an olympic summer in 2008
2008 Africa annual report
2008 Americas annual report
2008 Asia annual report
2008 Europe annual report
2008 Middle East annual report

by dates
World Report 2009
2008 Annual report
2007 Annual report
2006 Annual report
2005 Annual report
2004 Annual Report
2003 Annual Report
2002 Annual Report