10 years after investigative reporter Tim Lopes was killed, 2012 has become the most dangerous year for journalists in Brazil

By Isabela Fraga

Sunday, May 3, marked 10 years since the death of Brazilian investigative journalist Tim Lopes, who was tortured and killed while reporting on a favela, or slum, in Rio de Janeiro. A decade later, 2012 has become the most violent year for Brazilian journalists, according to the newspaper Estado de São Paulo. In just five months, four journalists have been killed for their work.

In the German Complex, the area of the favelas where Lopes was killed in June 2002, the date of the journalist's death was remembered with a memorial organized by Lopes' sister, Tania Lopes, and the non-governmental organization Afroreggae, according to the website Terra. A clothesline with 3,653 white handkerchiefs represented the days that have passed since the crime rocked the Brazilian population and called attention to the risks reporters face, according to the news site G1. The reflections about journalism generated by Lopes' killing led to the creation of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji in Portuguese) in December of that year.

To remember Lopes and the dangers journalists face, Abraji and the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), on May 31 and June 1, conducted a seminar about journalism in areas of risk. The seminar included discussions about safety precautions for journalists and a course on preventing risks, and touched on the Lopes case and the killing of journalist and cameraman Gelson Domingos, who died while covering a shootout in 2011.

Among the panelists was journalist Bruno Quintella, Lopes' son. "There was a change in the behavior of media companies and journalists themselves in terms of covering conflicts and investigations," Quintella told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

However, for Quintella, even though media outlets have incorporated protective measures for journalists, such as bullet-proof vests and helmets, there still remains something with journalists that sometimes leads them to take unnecessary risks. "If two reporters go to cover the same story and one of them risks more to get better images, the company will do whatever it takes to publish those images, and the reporter that didn't take the risk will be forced to do so the next time," Quintella said.

Quintella also called attention to the differences among the crimes against journalists: those that happen during armed conflicts (like wars or shootouts), and those about retaliation for something the journalist wrote or said. The number of journalists killed out of retaliation tops those killed in armed conflicts. "There is training for journalists in conflict situations, but not for situations of retaliation, which are common in investigative journalism," Quintella said.

During the Abraji and IAPA seminar, Quintella showed clips from a forthcoming documentary about his father, which will be released at the end of 2012. Titled "Stories of an Archangel: A Documentary about Tim Lopes," the film makes reference to the reporter's real name: Arcánjo Antonino Lopes do Nascimento. According to Quintella, Lopes used the alias to give to sources while conducing investigations for the Globo TV channel.

In the documentary about his father, Quintella collects testimonies from renowned journalists. "My goal was to humanize the figure of Tim Lopes," Quintella explained. "When my father died, a sort of idolatry developed around him. From what I know, he would not have wanted to be seen in this way." As journalist Arthur Dapieve says in the documentary, Lopes "was a man who saw things as they were, without demonizing or romanticizing them."

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.