Folha de S. Paulo journalist Patrícia Campos Mello was once again the target of a series of attacks on her reputation on Feb. 11, after the testimony of a witness to the Joint Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPMI, for its acronym in Portuguese) that investigates fake news in the 2018 Brazilian presidential campaign.
The CPMI heard from Hans River do Rio Nascimento, a former employee of the digital marketing agency Yacows. The company was one of those contracted by businessmen to campaign via WhatsApp against the Workers’ Party (PT) during the 2018 elections, as revealed by Campos Mello in Folha in October of that year. Two months later, another report by Mello and Artur Rodrigues showed that these companies use taxpayer identification numbers for the elderly to register thousands of cell phone chips. The report was based on documents from the Labor Court and reports from Nascimento to the journalist.
In the statement to parliamentarians, Nascimento said that the journalist made insinuations of having sex in exchange for information for the report. Federal deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of President Jair Bolsonaro, reproduced Nascimento's statement on Twitter and repeated it in the plenary of the Chamber of Deputies.
“I was perplexed to see, but I do not doubt, that Mrs. Patrícia Campos Mello, a journalist at Folha, may have made insinuations of having sex, as Mr. Hans (River, former Yacows employee) said, in exchange for information to try to harm the campaign of President Jair Bolsonaro,” the president's son said, according to O Globo.
In response, Folha published a report in which it lists a series of false information provided by the witness to the CPMI and reaffirms the accuracy of the data used in the reports on the illegal release of messages via social networks during the 2018 campaign. The newspaper also repudiated the insinuations made by the president's son.
“Folha repudiates the lies and insults directed at journalist Campos Mello in the so-called CPMI of Fake News. The newspaper is publishing documents that once again prove the correctness of the reports on the illegal use of social media bursts in the 2018 campaign. It also causes embarrassment for the National Congress to serve as a low-level stage and for the outrageous insinuations of Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro," the newspaper’s article said.
The new wave of attacks on Campos Mello caused by Nascimento's comments reproduced by Eduardo Bolsonaro generated outrage and an avalanche of comments in solidarity with the journalist.
More than 2,400 Brazilian journalists have already signed a manifesto of repudiation of the offenses against Mello. In the text, they say it is unacceptable to accuse the reporter, without proof, of “trying to seduce him to obtain information and forge publications [...] We will not allow attempts to silence female voices by spreading lies and propagating old and hateful stigmas with chauvinist hallmarks.”
The Brazilian Agency for Investigative Journalism (Abraji) said in a statement that “it is frightening for a public agent to use his communication channel to attack journalists whose reports bring information that displeases him, especially by appealing to machismo and misogyny. In addition, this is yet another occasion when members of the Bolsonaro family, instead of offering explanations to society, try to discredit the work of the press.”
The National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj) also rejected “the misogynistic, violent and sexist nature of the attack on the professional journalist, used to question the credibility of the information reported by Patrícia, one of the most respected and awarded professionals in the country. The attack affects not only the Folha reporter, but also democratic, constitutional principles and freedom of the press.”
“The rudeness to which journalist Patrícia Campos Melo was subjected is related to two phenomena: the continuous attacks on the press and journalists in general, and the multiplication of shameless behaviors. These two phenomena have been stimulated by some of the highest authorities in the Republic,” said Cid Benjamin, vice president of the Brazilian Press Association (ABI).
The president of the National Association of Newspapers (ANJ), Marcelo Rech, said that “it is unfortunate that a testimony in CPMI full of untruths is used to attack the honor of a reporter who did her job of bringing questionable electoral practices to light. [...] The attempt to intimidate and delegitimize professional journalism is one of the typical practices of autocracies.”
Several Brazilian journalists showed solidarity with Campos Mello on social media. Many of them are also targets of attacks for having written critical reports of the current government or other characters in a position of power.