Brazilian journalists suffer attacks in the context of presidential elections

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  • October 31, 2018

By Alessandra Monnerat and Carolina de Assis

Before and during the Brazilian presidential election that took place on Oct. 28, journalists were the subject of physical, verbal and digital threats and aggression.

At least nine journalists suffered physical or verbal aggression after the results from the Brazilian presidential election were announced, according to the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji). In seven cases, the violence was carried out by supporters of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party (PSL, for its acronym in Portuguese), according to the organization.

Additionally, 42 cases of violence against journalists have been reported since campaigning began on Aug. 16. In all, Abraji counted 153 cases of aggression in the political-electoral context since the beginning of the year — 72 physical and 81 digital.

"Every time a journalist suffers violence for exercising his office, freedom of expression is attacked and one of the pillars of democracy is shaken," the association said.

This Sunday, several professionals were attacked while covering celebrations of Bolsonaro’s victory. In Fortaleza, Ceará, two cases occurred at party headquarters for the president-elect. A journalist from the newspaper O Povo was knocked over while standing on a sound system and injured her hand, according to a report from O Povo. A reporter from TV Verdes Mares was verbally assaulted and the team car was hit by rocks, the paper reported.

Two other incidents of violence were reported at the victory party at Avenida Paulista in São Paulo, Abraji reported. Reporter Anna Virginia Balloussier, of Folha de S. Paulo, was surrounded and harassed by voters of the president-elect, according to the organization. Dutch journalist Sandra Korstjens, RTL Nieuws correspondent, reported having suffered sexual harassment, stalking and intimidation, it added. According to the professional, one of the men prevented her from continuing her work. Both noted that there were supporters who defended them.

In Santos, also in the state of São Paulo, three journalists, two from TV Tribuna and one from the newspaper A Tribuna, had to leave a victory party for Bolsonaro that they were covering because they were harassed, according to the Union of Professional Journalists in the State of São Paulo (SJSP) and Fenaj (National Federation of Journalists), which repudiated the assaults.

In front of Bolsonaro’s residence in Rio de Janeiro, there were also intimidations against journalists. Reporter Mellyna Reis was cursed at while broadcasting live, according to Abraji. Other coverage teams were also verbally assaulted, making recordings unfeasible.

In addition to these occurrences, Abraji also recorded two digital offenses. One of Bolsonaro's press officer, Carlos Eduardo Guimarães, called the press a “ruse” and “scum” on a WhatsApp broadcast list with journalists. The case was reported by several newspapers, such as O Globo and Gazeta do Povo. After negative repercussions, the officer apologized publicly, as recorded by Agência Brasil.

Bolsonaro’s party, Marcio Labre, threatened a reporter from the Diário de Pernambuco. "If he transgresses law and order, he will know the heavy hand of the state," the politician wrote to journalist João de Andrade Neto, Nexo reported.

These cases recorded on Sunday are not isolated. Six Brazilian and international organizations published a joint statement ahead of the Brazilian elections denouncing the intimidation of journalists covering campaigns in the country. They asked the two candidates in the second round of elections for the presidency, Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) and Bolsonaro, to “forcefully” denounce “the threats and acts of violence” against professionals who covered the campaign this year.

The organizations that signed the joint statement are Article 19, the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji), Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), Conectas Direitos Humanos, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (RSF, for its initials in French).

The note published on Oct. 25 cited online harassment and the threats received by Folha de S. Paulo reporter Patrícia Campos Mello, who is responsible for investigating the alleged electoral fraud committed by business backers of Bolsonaro.

According to the note, Mello "received an avalanche of threats online, two threatening calls, and her Whatsapp account was hacked.” Mauro Paulino, executive director of Datafolha, a research institute linked to Folha, was also threatened, the statement said.

According to Folha, between Oct. 19, the day after the publication of the report, and Oct. 23, one of the WhatsApp numbers maintained by the newspaper received more than 220 thousand messages from about 50,000 accounts on the application.

The newspaper said it considered "there are indications of an orchestrated action with an attempt to constrain freedom of the press" and asked that the Federal Police investigate the threats to the professionals.

“The threats against Patrícia Campos Mello and other journalists are an alarming escalation of anti-press rhetoric in this contentious electoral cycle in Brazil,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator, in the joint statement. “Journalists covering the Brazilian presidential election must be able to work freely and safely while reporting on issues of public interest. We call on candidates from all parties to respect press freedom and refrain from inflammatory statements against the media, and to urge their supporters to stop harassing and threatening journalists.”