Attacks on the press in Brazil rise 54% in 2019, according to Fenaj report

Attacks against media outlets and journalists in Brazil increased by 54 percent in 2019, compared to the previous year, according to general data from the report of the National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ), published Jan. 14. The full document will be released at an event in Rio de Janeiro later this week.

Relatório da Violência contra Jornalistas e liberdade de imprensa da Fenaj, de 2019. Crédito: Divulgação/Fenaj

2019 Fenaj Report Photo: Fenaj

According to the entity, 208 instances were recorded in 2019 – in the previous year there were 135. This year's report grouped instances into ten categories: murders; verbal aggressions; threats and intimidation; physical aggression; censorships; curtailment of press freedom through judicial means; impediments to professional practice; racial offense; violence against union organization; and discrediting the press.

To prepare the document, Fenaj accounts for all cases that come to the attention of the entity, whether through the victim's own complaint, notes published by the press and even publications on social networks. Before including the data in the report, Fenaj checks the accuracy of the reports.

"We know that there is an underreporting, because many professionals have not yet realized the importance of reporting. Sometimes an aggression does not seem to be serious, but, added to the others, characterizes a climate of disrespect to professional activity. Therefore it is necessary to report, so that the category as a whole think about its performance, protective measures and demands of the Brazilian State’s actions to guarantee professional practice," Fenaj president Maria José Braga told the Knight Center. She points out that, even with underreporting, 208 occurrences is "an alarming amount."

Of the total, 121 cases are of speeches by President Jair Bolsonaro against specific journalists or against the press. For this reason, in 2019, Fenaj decided to create a new category, that of discrediting the press, to group the recurring attacks by the Chief Executive.

Bolsonaro talks to the press Photo: Isac Nobrega/PR

Bolsonaro talks to the press Photo: Isac Nobrega/PR

"Until 2018 the category of physical aggressions was the most prevalent, but now it is the discrediting of the press. It was the President's statements that weighed in the balance for this increase in 2019. He alone is responsible for 58 percent of the aggressions, this is extremely worrisome. There was an institutionalization of attacks on the press, which had never happened before," Braga said.

Of the 121 attacks made by Bolsonaro, seven were counted as direct attacks on journalists. "The president's speeches are divided into categories such as discrediting the press, when they are general, and threats or intimidation, as it was against journalist Glenn Greenwald, from The Intercept, for example," Braga said. In July 2019, Bolsonaro said that the journalist had committed a crime and that "maybe he will do jail time in Brazil."

Braga hopes that the increase in 2019 will not be a new trend for the coming years and calls for protection measures by the communication companies and the government. "Fenaj defends the creation of security commissions in newsrooms, to assess risks and mitigation measures. Rede Globo in Rio, for example, has already created these commissions, but this must be adopted by other companies. And they need to demand Brazilian government actions as well,” she stated.

The total number of occurrences in 2019 represents a peak of records in the report's history, which has been carried out at least since 1998, at different time periods. According to Braga, there was an explosion of aggressions in 2013, during the street demonstrations in the country, with 189 occurrences. "It was an atypical year, but it was still less than in 2019," she said.

A positive point highlighted by the report was the decrease in physical aggressions – the most common type of violence until 2018. There were 15 cases in 2019, against 20 professionals. In 2018, there were 33 occurrences. "The aggressions have become more verbal with the advent of social networks, but 15 cases is still a very high number for a democracy," Braga said.

On the other hand, the number of murders has grown. Journalists Robson Giorno and Romário da Silva Barros, who worked in Maricá (Rio de Janeiro), were killed. The year before, there had been one murder, and in 2017, none. Similarly, there was an increase in racial offenses against journalists. In 2019, there were two, compared with none in 2018.