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Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Brazil

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1999
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Brazil, February 1999, available at: [accessed 24 November 2017]
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.

As of December 31, 1998

Amidst a deep economic crisis, Brazilians re-elected President Fernando Henrique Cardoso on October 4. Several regional newspapers were fined in October under an electoral law that prohibits the publication of political opinion or electoral propaganda immediately before an election.

The murders of two journalists highlight the dangers facing reporters working in the country's hinterlands, where political bosses and the military continue to exert de facto control. Manoel Leal de Oliveira was killed in March after he criticized local officials in the town of Itabuna; later that month, television news host José Carlos Mesquita was killed after he criticized local authorities in Ouro Preto do Oeste.

Most regional media outlets are dominated by powerful families who regard them as vehicles to advance their political ambitions. The prime example is the Collor de Mello family, which used its media empire in impoverished Alagoas State as a springboard to local politics and, eventually, the presidency. Reporters who criticize regional civilian and military authorities face constant threats and occasional violence. Ironically, while Brazil's rural journalists face some of the worst conditions in Latin America, those working in major media markets such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo enjoy some of the best. With a reputation for investigative reporting and the resources of huge media conglomerates behind them, Brazilian journalists have earned widespread public support and growing political power. 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 (in fact, some journalists now worry that coverage has become too scandal-driven).

Journalists throughout Brazil share a concern that the country's outdated print law, drafted under the military dictatorship, is being used to limit press freedom. Lawsuits remain common. Although there were no new convictions resulting in a prison sentence, the risk continues to hang over all Brazilian journalists. One clause of the 1967 law punishes journalists who publish false or "truncated" news that "causes the loss of confidence in the banking system" with up to six months imprisonment; a journalist who offends "public morals and good customs" can be jailed for up to a year.

Efforts to reform the law and to ensure that any new legislation affirms and strengthens the freedom of expression guarantees granted in the 1988 constitution have been hampered by members of Congress, who have proposed that journalists be subject to fines of up to US$100,000 for defamation with no limit on the damages that can be imposed on media owners. The proposed bill 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 current bill is stalled in the Congress, and a vote is not expected until a new legislature is chosen in January 1999.

Other legislation limits the practice of journalism to those with a university degree and prohibits journalists from printing the name of a minor accused of a crime. A bill before the Senate would prohibit journalists from publishing the names of crime victims.

Attacks on the Press in Brazil in 1998

03/10/98José Carlos Mesquita, TV Ouro VerdeKilled
01/14/98Manoel Leal de Oliveira, A RegiãoKilled
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