Brazil’s President-Elect Pressures Media Through Threats and Intimidation

Although Brazil’s election was marked by unprecedented events, including a former president campaigning from prison and a leading candidates being stabbed, one of the most concerning factors of this election was the direct attacks on Brazil’s free press.

Abraji, a Brazilian press freedom group, documented over 130 cases of digital and physical attacks on the press specifically related to the election, including a reporter who was assaulted and threatened with rape, and shots fired at a bus full of campaign reporters.

These results were published on October 8, 2018, meaning they exclude the final three weeks of the campaign cycle before the runoff election.

Most of the attacks against journalists have been attributed to supporters of president-elect Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has consistently referred to the press as “fake news” and “commies.”

“Bolsonaro is concerning, but he is only the latest point in a long history of attacks on the press in Brazil,” said Natalie Southwick, the Central and South America Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

As a candidate Bolsonaro used fake news to advance his claims to presidency. In the weeks before the runoff election, Folha de S.Paulo, Brazil’s largest daily publication, printed an investigative report exposing a large-scale disinformation campaign orchestrated by companies that supported Bolsonaro targeting Bolsonaro’s opponents.

These companies disseminated false stories about the opposing Workers’ Party (PT), which were sent to millions of Brazilians using the popular messaging platform WhatsApp.

Since winning the election, Bolsonaro has threatened to strip news outlets of public ad buys. As a result, several journalists have told Reuters that they have begun to tone down their coverage of Bolsonaro.

According to the Intercept, Bolsonaro-supporter and controversial Evangelical pastor, Edir Macedo, has been using his media empire to investigate and intimidate journalists and outlets who are critical of Bolsonaro. By bullying journalists and media outlets, Bolsonaro is slowly creating a base of press that is loyal to him.

This mistreatment of the press has drawn the attention of NGOs and other international actors – several of whom, including the CPJ, called on candidates during the election to denounce the attacks.

According to Natalie Southwick, the CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator, the CPJ wants Bolsonaro to “publicly acknowledge the importance of a free and diverse media and stress this importance to his supporters.”

When asked about the implications of Bolsonaro’s victory on the integrity of the press in Brazil, Southwick drew attention to the larger trend of press freedom violations that Bolsonaro is a part of.

“Threats against journalists are nothing new in Brazil,” Southwick said.

Brazil ranked tenth on the CPJ’s 2018 Impunity Index, an annual report on countries’ likelihood of bringing justice to the murders of journalists. 2018 is Brazil’s ninth year being featured on the Index.



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