Artigo 19's documentary on late journalist Rodrigo Neto looks at impunity in Brazil

By Jessica Diaz-Hurtado

Rodrigo Neto, a journalist and radio host from Ipatinga, Minas Gerais, denounced injustices and held police accountable.

“To speak of Rodrigo Neto is to speak of truth,” said fellow journalist Gizelle Ferreira Barbosa.

“Impunidade mata,” recently released by Brazilian press advocacy organization Article 19, is a mini documentary film on the investigation of the 2013 death of Neto and the implications of impunity in Brazil.

Neto, a political journalist for newspaper Vale do Aço, was killed on March 8, just two weeks after the killing of Ceara journalist Malfaro Bezerra Gois. Thirty seven days after Neto’s assassination, Vale do Aço photojournalist Walgney Assis Carvalho was also shot to death.

Neto and Caravalo were known to denounce injustices and crimes involving law enforcement that would help reveal information for various cases.

In April 2013, Minas Gerais’ chief officer confirmed police involvement in the murders of Neto and Carvalho and the suspects were put on leave.

“The police were able to silence Rodrigo Neto’s voice. They were able to silence our voices and the journalists’ voices as well. Now the police here near Vale do Aço have a greater power to omit information than before the Rodrigo Neto incident occurred,” said Ferreira Barbosa.

“Impunidade mata,” released in July, follows the recent sentencing of one of Neto’s killers, Alessandro Neves. He received 12 years for Neto’s death and four years for attempted murder of Neto’s friend on the day of the crime. Last year, Neto’s other killer, former police officer Lúcio Lírio, also received 12 years.

Although this case received a sentence, 58% of cases like these often don’t advance, according to Artigo 19. This leaves journalists at risk due to their career choice and reporting.

“Many times a communicator (comunicador) puts their own body, their own existence, in a hostile and difficult situation to let the people know what is going on. They face death squads. They face criminalization, police violence, abuse of authority, are in crossfires. They are there. ….They are our eyes, our ears, our conscious,” said Maria do Rosario, former congresswoman and Secretary for Human Rights.

The filmmakers of “Impunidade mata” recorded the testimonies of Neto’s colleagues, family members, Rosario and members of the Rodrigo Neto Committee, a group organized by the late journalist’s colleagues to push for investigation of and punishment for his murder.

The documentary describes the shock journalists felt after Neto’s murder and the message received: freedom of the press and expression is being threatened with fatal measures.

Fernando Bendito Jr., editor and member of the Rodrigo Neto Committee, mentions in the documentary that the climate is similar to the dictatorship period: a wrong move can lead to lethal consequences.

According to Artigo 19, Brazil is one of three Latin American countries with the greatest number of dead journalists in the world; the country is ranked 11th in CPJ’s 2014 Global Impunity Index. Artigo 19 and journalists shown in “Impunidade mata” aim to investigate cases like these to denounce the crimes against journalists.

The bureaucratic process to protect journalists is corrupt and complicated.

Protection for journalists is given at a federal level, yet investigations of homicides are done at a state level, according to Maria do Rosario.

“When there isn’t a federal oversight, the investigations are local. The protection programs are federal…The investigation itself though, is done on a state level. What we do lots of times is ask for federal accompaniment, but even then we still need a state authorization,” said Rosario.

The involvement of parties at different levels of the government complicates the process. Additionally, if the state-run investigation is carried out by those aiding the crime, justice is not likely.

This kind of bureaucracy allows impunity in cases of violence against journalists to thrive.

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.

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