Freedom of Speech and Press face the greatest threat of the democratic period in Brazil

Freedom of expression and press organizations emphasize the gravity of presidential coverage becoming a risky activity to the point that several vehicles canceled their shift in Brasília. Civil society, the international community, and other public authorities must join efforts to stop the escalation of attacks on communicators, including from the President of the Republic, in Brazil.

Organizations that defend freedom of expression and the press warning of the seriousness of the moment lived in Brazil in the face of the escalation of attacks on communicators, stimulated and carried out by the President of the Republic Jair Bolsonaro himself. This Tuesday (05/26), at least three communication groups – Globo, Folha, and Metrópoles – announced that their journalists will no longer be on duty to follow the presidential schedule in Brasilia, due to the high risk to which they are submitted, a serious fact and unique in the history of the Brazilian democratic period.

In notes (see at the end, available in Portuguese), the vehicles reported that a group of supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro has been taken to stand beside journalists on duty at the exit of the Palácio da Alvorada, separated only with a railing, insulting more and more aggressively the professionals who are working without the authorities taking steps to protect them.

The Union of Professional Journalists of the Federal District (SJPDF) has received dozens of complaints about the degree of insecurity and threat to the work of press professionals, who are repeatedly attacked by supporters of the president with actions ranging from insults, intimidation to attempts to publicly expose journalists.

The president himself and members of his government have been driving this escalation. Both by direct action, when they insult, make verbal and virtual attacks and institutional threats to media groups and professionals, as well as by failing to fulfill the duties of the positions they occupy by omitting or minimizing violence practiced in their name.

It is emblematic that a month that began with the physical aggression of professionals from the newspaper “O Estado de S. Paulo” in the middle of the World Press Freedom Day (03/05) records the breaking of yet another serious barrier of violation of freedom of press and expression.

On May 3rd, at least two journalists, a photographer, and a driver suffered assaults with kicks, punches, and insults by a group that expressed support for the President of the Republic Jair Bolsonaro, also present at the event, in Brasília. Bolsonaro downplayed the violence and never reprimanded his supporters for their behavior. On the contrary, two days later, the President himself was the author of insults: by disqualifying the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, he told journalists to shut up.

By qualifying the newspaper as ‘scoundrel’, ‘rascal’ and ‘liar’, Bolsonaro displayed a reproduction of the newspaper headline that refers to the exchange of two positions considered key in the federal police in ongoing investigations, that of the director-general and superintendent from Rio de Janeiro.

On the 17th, a supporter of Bolsonaro, server Angela Telma Alves Berger, attacked the journalist Clarissa Oliveira, from Band, with a flag during a new demonstration of support for the president in front of the Planalto Palace. Clarissa covered the act and had her glasses broken.

President Bolsonaro has also encouraged the group of supporters to attack journalists at the door of the Palace on another occasion, when the professionals came to abandon the coverage of the president on March 31.

Brazilian civil society has been adding disapproval notes and joint actions to try to stop the escalation, demand the responsibility of the perpetrators of the attacks and demand that public representatives act in accordance with the duties of the position they occupy. The problem also concerns the national and international community and has already been the subject of manifestations by the National Human Rights Council (CNDH) in Brazil and by the United Nations (UN) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The ability of journalists to safely follow the government to circulate information and opinions to society is compromised. Government transparency decreases every day. Disinformation is driven by executive power. The population sees its ability to monitor the actions of the federal government being increasingly restricted. Freedom of speech and press face their greatest threat in decades just when access to information is central to responding to a global pandemic.

Practices such as hate speech, authoritarian and anti-democratic threats, attacks, and aggressions against communicators go beyond the right to freedom of expression and free expression. On the contrary, violence against communicators and the restriction of freedom of the press were and are the main elements mobilized to restrict freedom of expression and democracy itself worldwide. Its restriction impacts not only the professionals who perform the activity but also the free circulation of information and ideas, restricting the population’s right to information as a whole. Questioning the press or disagreeing with it are legitimate attitudes, trying to silence it with attacks and aggression is an obvious and serious violation of the Constitution and the rule of law.

Civil society, the international community, and other public authorities must join efforts to stop the escalation of attacks on communicators and violations of freedom of expression, defending democratic practices.

The organizations that sign this note reaffirm their commitment to the defense of fundamental rights and democracy: we will engage all legal channels and efforts to charge public representatives and respond to the challenges we are going through.

Sign this note:

Centro de Estudos da Mídia Alternativa Barão de Itararé (Barão de Itararé Alternative Media Studies Center)
Fórum Nacional pela Democratização da Comunicação (National Forum for the Democratization of Communication)
Intervozes – Coletivo Brasil de Comunicação Social (Intervozes – Brazil Social Communication Collective)
Instituto Vladimir Herzog (Vladimir Herzog Institute)
Jornalistas contra o Assédio (Journalists Against Harassment)
Reporters Without Borders (RWB)

Notes from the communication companies (in Portuguese):

Folha de S. Paulo (Brazilian daily newspaper):

Grupo Globo (Brazil’s largest mass media group):

Metrópoles (Brasília news site):

Note from the Union of Professional Journalists of the Federal District (in Portuguese):

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