Bolsonaro threatens not to renew TV Globo broadcasting license after report on investigation of Marielle Franco's murder

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro threatened not to renew TV Globo's broadcasting license after the broadcaster aired a report about the mention of the president's name in the investigation into the murder of Marielle Franco, a city councilwoman executed in Rio de Janeiro on March 14, 2018.

In a live broadcast posted on Facebook at 4 a.m. on Oct. 30 in Riad, Saudia Arabia, where he has been on a diplomatic trip since Oct. 28, Bolsonaro called TV Globo's journalism “rotten,” “unscrupulous,” “villainous,” among other insults, and said he works to “get Brazil out of hole despite the nasty, disgusting, scumbag, immoral press like the Globo Radio and Television System.”

“You will renew the license in 2022. I will not persecute you. But the process will be clean. If it is not clean, cool, there is no renewal of your license, and no TV,” the president said at one point in the broadcast. Minutes later, he spoke again about the license renewal process, challenging the broadcaster.

“I will not talk to those of you from TV Globo. We’ll talk in 2022. I have to be dead by then. Because the license renewal process will not be persecution. Not for you, not for TV, not any radio station. But the process has to be lean, it has to be cool. There will be no workarounds for you, nor for anyone. Is that your concern? Keep acting like a scoundrel with President Jair Bolsonaro and his family. Keep it up, TV Globo,” he threatened.

O presidente do Brasil, Jair Bolsonaro, ao vivo pelo Facebook, ameaçou não renovar a concessão pública da TV Globo

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro broadcasts live via Facebook and threatens not to renew the broadcast license of TV Globo. (Screenshot.)

The president's remarks were in response to a report from Jornal Nacional that aired on the night of the 29th that said that one of the suspects in the murder of Marielle Franco met with another accused of the crime, who lives in the same condominium where Bolsonaro lives in Rio de Janeiro, hours before the murder. The report on TV Globo had access to testimony from the condo doorman in which he states that the visitor said he was going to the house of Jair Bolsonaro, then a federal deputy, and someone in the house answered the call through the intercom and authorized the entry. The doorman reportedly watched the car move and saw that he went to the other suspect’s house. The suspects left the condo in another car and committed the crime hours later, according to a police investigation.

Franco, city councilor of Rio de Janeiro for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), was shot nine times that night. The attack also killed Anderson Gomes, the driver of the car she was traveling in.

The report from Jornal Nacional also states that, on the day of Franco's assassination, Jair Bolsonaro was in Brasilia, as seen in the attendance records from the Chamber of Deputies and videos posted on his social networks on March 14, 2018.

“A villainy, TV Globo. A villainy doing a story like that, airing it on prime time, placing under suspicion that I could have participated in the murder of Marielle Franco,” the president said in his live broadcast.

In response to the president's statements, Globo stated that “it did not act like a scoundrel or villain. It did, as always, journalism with seriousness and responsibility. It revealed the existence of the doorman's testimony and the statements he made. But it highlighted, with emphasis and by its own reporting, that the information from the doorman clashed with a fact: the presence of the then-deputy Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia that day, with two entries in the list of voting attendance.”

Globo regrets that the president reveals not knowing the mission of quality journalism and uses unfair terms to insult those who do nothing but accurately inform the Brazilian public. Regarding the statement that, in 2022, he will not pursue Globo, but only renew its license if the process is, in his words, lean, Globo claims that it could not expect any other action from him. In 54 years, the station never failed to fulfill its obligations,” Globo said in a statement.

Entities repudiate threat to press freedom

Organizations defending freedoms of the press and of speech rejected the statements of the Brazilian president, who has a history of hostility against journalists dating back to the election campaign that brought him to the presidency.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) asked the leader “to refrain from insulting and threatening media outlets.”

“President Bolsonaro’s threats and insults against Brazil’s largest news broadcaster have no place in a democracy,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in a release from the organization. “Brazilians have the right to access news without government restrictions, and the government’s ability to issue licenses should never be used as a form of censorship.”

Reporters Without Borders said in a statement that it “repudiates [Bolsonaro’s] attacks, marked by an extremely dangerous and worrying hate speech.” The organization noted that two days ago, the president posted a video on his Twitter account that characterized him as a lion under attack by hyenas representing his alleged opponents, including TV Globo, newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, magazine Veja and radio station Jovem Pan, as well as the UN and Supreme Court. Bolsonaro later apologized and deleted the post, which he classified as a mistake.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s ‘mistakes’ and statements will have far-reaching consequences,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk, according to an organization release. “By insulting and humiliating some of Brazil’s most important media, the country’s highest authority is feeding and sustaining a climate of hatred and mistrust towards Brazilian journalism. These repeated attacks are very worrying and Bolsonaro’s threats not to renew TV Globo’s broadcast frequencies in 2022 are extremely serious. They amount to direct censorship."

Edison Lanza, special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), compared Bolsonaro's threat to what Hugo Chávez did in Venezuela in 2007, when he did not renew the license of RCTV.

“Bolsonaro responds to @OGloboPolitica coverage that he will look with a magnifying glass at the renewal of the television frequency in 2023. In the case of RCTV vs. Venezuela, the @CorteIDH understood Chavez's amenazas for editorial line, followed in the non-renewal as indirect censorship,” Lanza wrote on Twitter.

Daniel Bramatti, president of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji), classified Bolsonaro's statements as “misplaced aggression” in a note sent to Folha de S. Paulo.

“Jair Bolsonaro's latest aggression against journalists and journalism, reinforced by his children, is misplaced. By insinuating possible retaliation toward an outlet and journalists for being upset over a report, the president promotes another serious attack on press freedom,” he said.

"It doesn't surprise us, but it causes indignation," Maria José Braga, president of the National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj), also told Folha. “Once again Bolsonaro does not behave like a president, does not respect the office's duty, uses his position to discredit the press and spread hostility among his followers against journalists. It's very serious."

According to article 223 of the Federal Constitution of Brazil (1988), “It is incumbent upon the Executive Power to grant and renew the concession, permission and authorization for radio or television broadcast service, observing the principle of complementarity of the private, public and state-owned systems."

According to Folha, TV Globo's license expires on April 15, 2023, but the President of the Republic can decide on the license up to one year before its expiration, which in this case would be the last year of Bolsonaro's term. However, according to the Constitution, "the non-renewal of the concession or permission will depend on the approval of at least two fifths of the National Congress, by roll call."