Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro made 116 attacks on the press in 2019, according to Fenaj

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro made 116 attacks on the press and journalists in 2019, about one statement every three days, according to monitoring by the National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj).

The survey, published in January, considers only the statements recorded in writing by the president's official media, such as Twitter and the interviews and speeches transcribed on the website of the Planalto, the president’s workplace. Therefore, the number of attacks is even higher than counted by the report, according to Fenaj.

According to Fenaj's president, Maria José Braga, this is the first time the entity has carried out this kind of monitoring with a president. She stated that today there is an institutionalization of attacks on the press.

"This is something unheard of. It is the first time that we have someone in Brazil who occupies the Presidency of the Republic and makes systematic attacks on the media and journalists. That had never happened, not even in the dictatorship. Of course it was much more serious in that time because there was censorship and direct repression, but there was not this systematic verbal attack that Bolsonaro uses," she told the Knight Center. According to Braga, the recurring aggressions are part of a strategy of discrediting the press.

Bolsonaro tomou posse em janeiro de 2019. Foto: Alan Santos/PR

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro Photo: Alan Santos/PR

The most recent occurred on Jan. 6 when the president criticized an article from the site UOL and said that Brazilian journalists are an "endangered race." At the entrance to the Alvorada Palace, where he often speaks to the press and supporters, the president said reading newspaper poisons and misinforms. Outlets such as Folha de S.Paulo and O Estado de S.Paulo published the statements.

"Whoever does not read the newspaper is not informed. And whoever reads is uninformed. It has to change that. You are an endangered species. I think I will put the journalists of Brazil linked to Ibama [Brazilian Institute of the Environment]. You are an endangered race," the president said, as reported by Folha.

He also recalled that he canceled the print subscriptions of newspapers and magazines in the Planalto Palace. “All, all (have been canceled). I no longer receive newsprint or magazine paper. Whoever wants it can go buy it. Because it poisons us to read the newspaper. It arrives already poisoned,” he said, according to an article from Estadão. However, Bolsonaro kept the digital subscriptions. After criticism for withdrawing Folha from bidding by the Presidency to subscribe to national and international print outlets in November, the leader retreated from the measure.

On another occasion, on Dec. 20, the president told a Globo reporter that he had a “face of a terrible homosexual." "You have a face of a terrible homosexual. But I don't accuse you of being homosexual. Although it is not a crime to be homosexual," he said at the door of the Alvorada Palace, according to Globo. The attack was condemned by entities such as the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) and Fenaj.

Braga says that the attacks wear down the professionals, and that this type of coverage, made at the door of the Alvorada Palace, needs to be reevaluated by the media companies.

"We know that the president, by the position he holds, must be followed, and his words and actions must be reported, but there is a limit to the exposure of press professionals," she said. She explains that journalists are more vulnerable at the door of the Alvorada Palace due to the constant presence of supporters of the president.

"There is a cheering squad that encourages him to be aggressive. It’s coverage that, for Fenaj, should be abolished. This is to make a podium for the president to show his aggression and continue this systematic practice of attack on the press," she argued.

Braga disputes Bolsonaro's talk about journalists being an "endangered race." "Journalism is becoming increasingly necessary, precisely because of the excess of information. That's why mediation of journalism is important, so that the population has reliable sources to turn to."