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Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Brazil

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2004
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Brazil, February 2004, available at: [accessed 23 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.

Although Brazilian media outlets generally operate in a free environment, they have increasingly been targeted with defamation lawsuits that seek to silence them. Judicial interference and censorship, under the guise of protecting privacy and honor, continues unabated.

Defamation lawsuits – mostly civil complaints – against the media are on the rise, according to the trade magazine Consultor Jurídico. Businessmen, politicians, and public officials file multiple lawsuits against news outlets and journalists as a way to pressure them, strain their resources, and force them to halt their criticisms. Frequently, plaintiffs seek disproportionately high amounts of money as reparation for "moral and material damages," which has given rise to an "industry of compensation" where people sue the media as a way of becoming rich. Judges increasingly admit such lawsuits in court and rule against the press. Some journalists argue that the media have become an easy target for defamation lawsuits because of flawed reporting and blurred boundaries between entertainment and news.

Throughout 2003, judges granted injunctions against the press that amounted to prior censorship. For example, in February, local media reported that a judge had ruled that the monthly Você S/A, owned by the Editora Abril publishing house, could publish a critical cover story about a job placement firm only on the condition that it included, with the same space and prominence, the firm's reply to each individual claim in the article. If Você S/A failed to comply, it would have been held in contempt of court and subjected to civil and criminal penalties. The magazine chose to pull the story and, as a result, had to change the issue's cover. Editora Abril appealed, and in late February, a three-judge panel from the São Paulo Justice Tribunal revoked the injunction, freeing Você S/A to publish the story without restrictions.

Having predicted a tough first year for President Luiz Inácio da Silva, known as Lula, and his Workers Party, the Brazilian media generally praised Lula's commitment to austere economic policies. In October, several associations of media owners requested public financing from the government to bail out some of Brazil's indebted media companies. Some critics of this proposal argued that the media were compromising their independence, while others argued that the government should not be rescuing cash-strapped companies. At the end of the year, the government was still considering the request.

Brazil continues to be a dangerous place for journalists. In July, Luiz Antônio Da Costa, a photographer with the weekly Época, was shot dead by robbers while working on an assignment in São Bernardo do Campo, São Paulo State. In June, unidentified men murdered Nicanor Linhares Batista, owner of a radio station and an on-air host in Limoeiro do Norte, in the northeastern state of Ceará. A controversial journalist, Linhares' hard-hitting commentaries angered many local politicians and public officials. In October, the Ceará Public Prosecutor's Office identified two public officials – a judge from the neighboring state of Pernambuco and his wife, Limoeiro do Norte's mayor – as the individuals who ordered Linhares' murder. Because of their status as public officials, the case was transferred to federal and state prosecutors, who had not brought formal charges against them by year's end.

CPJ continued to follow developments in the case of murdered journalist Domingos Sávio Brandão Lima Júnior, the owner and publisher of the Cuiabá-based daily Folha do Estado in the state of Mato Grosso. Hired gunmen killed Brandão in September 2002. João Arcanjo Ribeiro, a police officer turned businessman who has been identified by federal and state prosecutors as the head of the Mato Grosso mafia, is suspected of ordering Brandão's murder in retaliation for his newspaper's criticism of organized crime and illegal gambling. Ribeiro is currently imprisoned in Uruguay while awaiting extradition.

In some cases, the Brazilian media engage in unethical conduct. In September, Brazil's leading daily, Folha de S. Paulo, reported that the former government of the state of Paraná had "purchased" articles for 6.4 million reals (US$2 million) in the Paraná media in 2002. The articles, which did not disclose to readers that they were paid for and thus equivalent to advertisements, were glowing reports about the opening of public works commissioned by the former state governor and highlighted his achievements. The Paraná Public Prosecutor's Office has since opened an investigation into the purchase of these articles. According to the Folha de S. Paulo report, the practice of publishing paid articles without proper disclosure to readers is widespread in the Brazilian media, particularly in small and medium-size publications.

The Brazilian media industry is highly concentrated, particularly the broadcasting sector, which is dominated by the huge Organizações Globo media group. In some of the largest markets, the same media group controls newspapers, network and cable television channels, several radio stations, and Internet portals. Insufficient, outdated, and lax regulations governing media concentration mean that the news and opinions that many Brazilians have access to lack diversity.

Throughout 2003, the government telecommunications agency, ANATEL, closed several community radio stations that had been operating without broadcasting licenses and confiscated their equipment. According to some estimates, more than 4,000 community radio stations currently on the air have formally requested licenses, but ANATEL has not responded to their requests. In March, the Communications Ministry, which controls ANATEL, decided to create a working group charged with finding ways to expedite, and add transparency to, the processing of license requests.

Meanwhile, the suspects accused of murdering TV Globo reporter Tim Lopes have yet to be tried. Lopes was beaten by members of an organized crime gang and brutally murdered by the group's leader on June 3, 2002, while working on an investigative story about drug traffickers allegedly involved in the sexual exploitation of minors in one of Rio de Janeiro's favelas, or shantytowns.

2003 Documented Cases – Brazil

JUNE 30, 2003

Nicanor Linhares Batista, Rádio Vale do Jaguaribe

Nicanor, radio host and owner of Rádio Vale do Jaguaribe, based in the city of Limoeiro do Norte, in the northeastern state of Ceará, was killed by at least two unidentified gunmen at around 8 p.m. while he was recording his daily show "Encontro Político" (Political Encounter) at his station's studios.

According to the daily Diário do Nordeste, which is based in Fortaleza, the capital of Ceará, a sound operator who witnessed the murder said that the gunmen came into the studio, shot Nicanor several times at close range, and fled on a motorcycle. Nicanor was taken to Limoeiro do Norte's public hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.

The Fortaleza daily O Povo reported that "Encontro Político," broadcast on weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., was one of the most popular radio shows in the region. According to O Povo, Nicanor was considered a controversial journalist whose hard-hitting commentaries had angered many local politicians and public officials.

Ceará State parliamentary deputy Paulo Duarte was quoted in Diário do Nordeste as saying that he had heard about a plot to kill Nicanor, and that the journalist had received threats. According to Duarte, Nicanor had scheduled a July 1 meeting with him and another state government official to discuss his safety.

Several members of Nicanor's family who gave testimony to the police believe that he was killed for his journalism, O Povo reported. The journalist's wife told Diário do Nordeste that Nicanor had received threats before he bought the radio station in 2001 but had not received any recently.

According to the news agency Agência Nordeste, police said that Nicanor's murder may have been a contract killing and that the journalist had many enemies because of the critical reports that aired on his station. However, police have yet to offer a motive and continue their investigation, according to local press reports.

JULY 23, 2003

Luiz Antônio da Costa, Época

Da Costa, a photographer with the weekly Época, was killed while on assignment in the city of São Bernardo do Campo, São Paulo State.

The 36-year-old photographer, who was known professionally as La Costa, and Época reporter Alexandre Mansur were covering the occupation by homeless families of an empty lot belonging to a Volkswagen auto factory in São Bernardo do Campo. The homeless families, who numbered in the thousands and had been organized by the Movement of Homeless Workers (MTST), had been camping at the site since July 19 to demand housing and jobs from the state and federal government.

At around 3 p.m., while MTST leaders were talking to the journalists, three men who had just robbed a nearby gas station entered the campsite brandishing handguns. One of them shot La Costa in the chest at close range. The journalist was then taken to the São Bernardo Municipal Hospital but died shortly after.

Based on witness testimony and on several pictures taken at the scene of the shooting by photographer André Porto, of the newspaper Agora São Paulo, police were able to identify La Costa's suspected attackers, two of whom were captured on July 30.

The same day, police announced that one of the suspects had confessed to having shot La Costa accidentally while aiming at his camera, Época reported. The suspect also told police that the three men thought La Costa had taken pictures of the robbery at the gas station. The police believe that La Costa was targeted deliberately, according to Época.

Época is owned by Editora Globo S.A., part of the giant media group Organizações Globo.

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