Last Updated: Friday, 25 July 2014, 12:52 GMT

Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Brazil

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Brazil, February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566ca30.html [accessed 28 July 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.

A proposed bill to regulate the press, as well as the attempted expulsion of a New York Times correspondent, highlighted the growing tension between the Brazilian media and the administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as Lula.

In August, the government submitted a controversial bill to Congress that would have regulated the practice of journalism in Brazil. The bill would have established federal and regional "journalism councils" comprising journalists with the power to "guide, discipline, and supervise the practice of the profession."

Under the bill, journalists would have been subject to warnings, fines, censure, suspension for up to 30 days, or revocation of registration for violating the journalism councils' ethical and disciplinary principles. The councils also would have been able to impose penalties for continuing to work despite being barred; not complying with the councils' decisions; and not paying professional dues. Under the proposal, journalists would have been required to register with their local councils to practice journalism.

The bill was originally drafted by the National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ) – an umbrella group of regional labor unions that is generally supportive of the president's Workers' Party – and was revised by the Ministry of Labor and Employment. While government officials and FENAJ members claimed that tighter regulation was needed to guarantee quality and accurate information, many leading newspapers and journalists denounced the bill, pointing out that some of its most vocal supporters were Workers' Party-affiliated journalists. Some called the proposal's penalties excessive, while others argued that journalism is not a technical profession that requires regulation.

In mid-December, the Chamber of Deputies voted down the proposal. According to the Brazilian Press Association, a leading journalists organization, the proposal was "a threat to the constitutionally established principle of freedom of expression."

On December 8, the Brazilian Congress enacted a constitutional amendment to reform the judiciary. To ensure Brazil's compliance with international human rights treaties, Article 109 now grants the federal Attorney General's Office the power to ask the Superior Tribunal of Justice, the country's second-highest court, to transfer a case to federal jurisdiction if grave human rights violations are suspected. While Congress has yet to approve legislation implementing the amendment, federal prosecutors could use this new power to investigate the murders of journalists where state authorities are allegedly involved.

On May 11, the Ministry of Justice revoked the visa of New York Times correspondent Larry Rohter, who was outside Brazil at the time, after Rohter wrote an article about the president's drinking habits that government officials found "offensive" to him and Brazil's image. On May 15, after receiving a letter from Rohter's Brazilian lawyers stating that he had not meant to offend Lula, the government restored his visa. The incident caused an uproar, and even journalists who questioned Rohter's article criticized the government for its intolerance.

The press has lambasted Lula, a former union leader, for not holding regularly scheduled press conferences and instead conducting informal, one-on-one meetings with journalists. Government officials charge that the press is prejudiced against Lula and his leftist Workers' Party.

Brazil remains a dangerous place for journalists, who are often targeted by corrupt politicians, criminals, and drug traffickers. On April 24, radio host José Carlos Araújo was shot dead in the town of Timbaúba in northeastern Pernambuco State. On April 28, police captured one of the suspected killers, who confessed to shooting Araújo because the radio host had accused him on the air of being a criminal. During the last five years, four journalists in Brazil have been killed for their work. In most of these cases no one has been prosecuted. CPJ continues to investigate the murders of Samuel Romã and Jorge Lourenço dos Santos, two radio station owners and hosts who often criticized local politicians. The men were also involved in local politics, which could have been behind their deaths.

Journalists and media outlets also suffer under defamation lawsuits from businessmen, politicians, and public officials who frequently seek substantial monetary damages. Judges often rule against the press in such cases.

While the Brazilian media often earn praise for their aggressive coverage and willingness to confront the government, the concentration of media ownership is a point of concern, particularly in the broadcasting sector, which is dominated by the Organizações Globo group. In some of the largest markets, the same media group controls newspapers, network and cable TV channels, radio stations, and Internet portals. Insufficient, outdated, and lax regulations governing media concentration ensure that much of the country's news and commentary lacks diversity. Moreover, many regional politicians own broadcast media outlets.

In 2004, ANATEL, the telecommunications regulatory agency, closed dozens of community radio stations operating without broadcasting licenses and confiscated their equipment. Several thousand community stations currently on the air have formally requested licenses, but the approval process takes several years. Community radio groups complain that the government has not implemented the recommendations issued by a working group it created in 2003 with a mandate to find ways to expedite licensing. During the closures of several radio stations, heavily armed police accompanying ANATEL officials harassed the stations' staff, according to community media organizations.


2004 Documented Cases – Brazil

APRIL 20, 2004
Posted: April 30, 2004

Samuel Romã, Radio Conquista FM
KILLED – UNCONFIRMED

At around 6 p.m., four gunmen on two motorcycles shot radio host Romã outside his home in Coronel Sapucaia, in the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul, according to local news reports. Police took the journalist to the municipal hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Romã was a host and owner of Radio Conquista FM, based in the Paraguayan town of Capitán Bado just across the Brazilian border from Coronel Sapucaia.

The 36-year-old Romã was a well-known and outspoken journalist who frequently denounced drug trafficking and crime in the border area, according to the daily Correio do Estado, based in Campo Grande, the state capital. He hosted the one-hour talk show "A Voz do Povo" (The Voice of the People).

According to the daily O Progresso, during several shows before his death, Romã had demanded that police investigate several recent murders in the area. In addition, he had recently announced that he had documents proving that important local figures are involved in organized crime, and that he would disclose their names.

On April 22, Paraguayan police arrested three men suspected of killing Romã and handed them over to Brazilian police, who sent them to Campo Grande.

CPJ continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the journalist's death. In early April, local police had questioned the journalist about his visits to a clandestine gambling parlor, the news Web site Dourados Agora reported. Romã was also a member of the Democratic Labor Party (PDT) and had close ties to local PDT politicians.

APRIL 24, 2004
Posted: April 30, 2004

José Carlos Araújo, Rádio Timbaúba FM
KILLED – CONFIRMED

Radio host Araújo was killed in the town of Timbaúba, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the state capital of Recife in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. Two unidentified gunmen ambushed and shot Araújo at around 7:30 p.m. outside his home in Timbaúba, according to local news reports. None of the journalist's belongings were stolen.

The 37-year old Araújo hosted the call-in talk show "José Carlos Entrevista" (José Carlos Interviewing) at Rádio Timbaúba FM. Citing police sources, the Recife-based daily Diário de Pernambuco said that Araújo had made several enemies in Timbaúba after denouncing the existence of death squads run by criminal gangs and the involvement of well-known local figures in murders in the region.

According to the Recife daily Folha de Pernambuco, on April 28, police captured Elton Jonas Gonçalves de Oliveira, one of the suspected assassins, who confessed to killing Araújo because the journalist had accused him on the air of being a criminal. Folha de Pernambuco quoted Timbaúba's police chief as saying that Gonçalves claimed that he did not commit all the crimes the journalist accused him of and resented Araújo for giving him a bad reputation.

MAY 11, 2004
Posted: May 12, 2004

Larry Rohter, The New York Times
EXPELLED

The Brazilian Ministry of Justice decided to revoke the visa of New York Times Brazil correspondent Rohter after he wrote an article about the drinking habits of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as "Lula." Rohter is currently abroad, according to local news reports.

A short press release posted on May 11 on the Ministry of Justice's Web site and signed by Interim Minister of Justice Luiz Paulo Teles Ferreira Barreto, said officials had decided to cancel Rohter's visa under Article 26 of Law 6815 due to "a frivolous and misleading report that is offensive to the honor of the President of the Federal Republic of Brazil with grave damage to the image of the nation abroad."

Under Article 26 of Law 6815, an immigration law that defines the legal status of foreigners in Brazil, the arrival, stay, or registration of a foreigner may be blocked if the Ministry of Justice deems his or her presence in the country "inconvenient."

In a New York Times article published on May 9 titled "Brazilian Leader's Tippling Becomes National Concern," Rohter wrote that some Brazilians were concerned that Lula's alleged heavy drinking was affecting his performance in office. In the article, Rohter also cited Lula's staff and supporters, who dismissed speculation that Lula drinks excessively.

The article generated a strong reaction from the Brazilian government. In a letter to the editor sent yesterday to The New York Times, Brazilian Ambassador to the United States Roberto Abdenur wrote, "President Lula da Silva is a respected leader and statesman in Brazil and all over the world." Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim was quoted by The Associated Press as saying, "This is not about freedom of speech.... We never acted against anyone who criticized Brazil's internal or foreign policy, but it is another thing to offend the honor of the chief of state."

MAY 11, 2004
Posted: May 17, 2004

Larry Rohter, The New York Times
LEGAL ACTION

The Brazilian Ministry of Justice decided to revoke the visa of New York Times Brazil correspondent Rohter after he wrote an article about the drinking habits of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as "Lula." Rohter is currently abroad, according to local news reports.

A short press release posted on May 11 on the Ministry of Justice's Web site and signed by Interim Minister of Justice Luiz Paulo Teles Ferreira Barreto, said officials had decided to cancel Rohter's visa under Article 26 of Law 6815 due to "a frivolous and misleading report that is offensive to the honor of the President of the Federal Republic of Brazil with grave damage to the image of the nation abroad."

Under Article 26 of Law 6815, an immigration law that defines the legal status of foreigners in Brazil, the arrival, stay, or registration of a foreigner may be blocked if the Ministry of Justice deems his or her presence in the country "inconvenient."

In a New York Times article published on May 9 titled "Brazilian Leader's Tippling Becomes National Concern," Rohter wrote that some Brazilians were concerned that Lula's alleged heavy drinking was affecting his performance in office. In the article, Rohter also cited Lula's staff and supporters, who dismissed speculation that Lula drinks excessively.

The article generated a strong reaction from the Brazilian government. In a letter to the editor sent yesterday to The New York Times, Brazilian Ambassador to the United States Roberto Abdenur wrote, "President Lula da Silva is a respected leader and statesman in Brazil and all over the world." Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim was quoted by The Associated Press as saying, "This is not about freedom of speech.... We never acted against anyone who criticized Brazil's internal or foreign policy, but it is another thing to offend the honor of the chief of state."

On May 12, Sérgio Cabral, a senator who belongs to the governing coalition in Congress, petitioned Brazil's Superior Tribunal of Justice (STJ) to annul the decision revoking Rohter's visa. Cabral argued that the government's action constituted a violation of press freedom and of the journalist's right to freedom of expression, both guaranteed under the Brazilian Constitution.

On May 13, STJ Judge Francisco Peçanha Martins granted Rohter permission to work in Brazil while a 10-judge STJ panel examines the merits of Cabral's petition. In addition, Judge Peçanha ordered the government to submit additional information about its decision within 72 hours.

After the government revoked Rohter's visa, officials stated that Rohter, who is currently outside Brazil, would be notified of the cancellation of his visa upon entering the country and would then have eight days to leave.

The Brazilian government agency that provides the executive branch with legal counsel announced that it would not challenge Judge Peçanha's decision.

But on Friday, May 15, the Brazilian government dropped its threat to expel Rohter, restoring the journalist's visa. The Ministry of Justice made its decision after receiving a letter from Rohter's Brazilian lawyers stating that he had not meant to offend da Silva and expressing regret for any embarrassment the report may have caused.

JULY 11, 2004
JULY 14, 2004

Jorge Lourenço dos Santos, Criativa FM
KILLED – UNCONFIRMED

Dos Santos, radio owner and host, was killed in Alagoas State in northeastern Brazil. CPJ is investigating whether the slaying was related to his work as a journalist.

Dos Santos was killed at about 7:30 p.m. outside his home in the town of Santana do Ipanema, 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Maceió, Alagoas State capital, according to local press reports. A man shot dos Santos four times and fled in a car. The journalist was taken to a local hospital but died shortly after arriving.

The 59-year-old dos Santos owned the radio station Criativa FM, which was based in his home, and hosted a show in which he frequently criticized local politicians and businessmen. Local police have confirmed that the journalist had received death threats and had been the target of two attempted killings, according to the Maceió-based daily Gazeta de Alagoas. No suspects have been detained.

According to the Folha news agency, police are investigating whether dos Santos' murder was politically motivated. In addition to his work at the radio station, dos Santos was involved in politics, having run for council in the nearby town of Major Isidoro in 1996 and 2000. Dos Santos' wife is running for council in local elections in October 2004. His family believes that local politicians hired the assassin, Gazeta de Alagoas reported.

During the last two years, CPJ has documented the slayings of two other radio journalists in Brazil's northeast region who were killed for their journalistic work. CPJ continues to examine the cases of two journalists who have been killed over the last two years in the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, in the central west region of Brazil.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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