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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Brazil

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Brazil, February 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5652923.html [accessed 18 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

With a reputation for investigative reporting and the resources of huge media conglomerates behind them, Brazilian journalists in major cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo enjoy widespread public support and growing political power. Their biggest problems are a lack of legal safeguards and increasing collusion between media moguls and Brazilian politicians.

But away from the sophisticated urban media environment, journalists in the poor interior states work under some of the worst conditions in Latin America. Most regional media outlets are owned by political bosses, who use them to advance their own interests. The Collor de Mello family, for example, used its media empire in the impoverished backwater state of Alagoas as a springboard into local politics and, eventually, the presidency. Reporters who criticize regional civilian and military authorities have been threatened, beaten, and even murdered. The assassination of radio journalist Edgar Lopes de Faria, who was gunned down in October in the state of Mato Grosso after denouncing the corruption of local officials, served as a clear illustration to local journalists of the impunity of the regional power brokers.

On a national level, however, journalists often have the upper hand over politicians. Since 1992, when aggressive reporting on corruption forced the resignation of President Fernando Collor de Mello, investigative journalism has become a staple of the Brazilian media. Many journalists view the attempt by Congress to impose legal restrictions on the press as retaliation for aggressive reporting. Press organizations and media owners have banded together to scuttle the most punitive measures, such as jail terms for journalists convicted of libel. Nevertheless, legislation pending before Congress would expose journalists to fines of up to $100,000 for defamation, and make media owners liable for unlimited amounts in damages. The bill, on which the lower Chamber of Deputies is expected to vote sometime in 1998, would also make it easier for politicians to invoke the "right to reply," under which media outlets are required to give aggrieved parties space or time to respond to allegations made in the press. The bill is expected to be voted on by the lower Chamber of Deputies sometime in 1998.

While journalists support the effort to update the 1967 press law, written under the military dictatorship, they are working to ensure that the new legislation affirms and strengthens the freedom of expression guarantees granted in the 1988 constitution. Journalist's organizations are also concerned that the powerful media conglomerates are dictating coverage and, through their contacts with politicians in Brasilia, setting the country's political agenda. Media owners, for their part, have been unsuccessful in overturning a controversial 1969 law which requires all practicing journalists to have a university degree. They say the law artificially elevates the pay scale and sometimes prevents them from hiring the most qualified person.

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