'I had to walk with a bodyguard for awhile,' said Patrícia Campos Mello, winner of the Maria Moors Cabot 2020

In an unusual practice among journalists, Brazilian reporter Patricia Campos Mello is suing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and other public officials who made sexual insinuations against her. It is also a protective measure after she received a series of threats and was harassed after her article was published, revealing that businessmen had financed the spread of negative propaganda targeting Bolsonaro's main opponent in the 2018 elections.

Patricia Campos Mello

Patrícia Campos Mello. Photo: courtesy

The Columbia Journalism School described Campos Mello as “a fearless investigative reporter” in the award release that announced her as one of the winners of the 2020 Maria Moors Cabot Prizes. “[She is] a prime example of a professional journalist who continues to do her job in the face of adversity. "There is no democracy without Patrícias, without a free press,” the release read. The award, created in 1938, is the oldest international honor offered to journalists.

In an interview with LatAm Journalism Review, Campos Mello talked about how she has dealt with threats, the COVID-19 pandemic coverage and disinformation. “The biggest threat against journalism in Brazil is the avalanche of disinformation and the government’s frontal attacks. To confront it, we need to continue doing journalism and not allow it to intimidate us,” she said.

What does this Maria Moors Cabot Prize mean to you? How does it make you feel? 

The award is an acknowledgment of Brazilian journalists’ work, especially women, who daily face intimidation campaigns and threats to do their jobs.

When you think of all the people you interviewed and all the stories you told, which ones would you say were the most interesting or that you learned the most from?

Ah, there are so many! But, especially, I really liked Daniella, José Arthur’s mother. I met Daniella in 2016. She worked at a school in Serra Talhada, in the interior of Pernambuco, and had to leave her job when her son was born with microcephaly, because of Zika. Her husband, Rosivaldo, is a moto-taxi driver. At the hospital for the treatment of microcephaly in the region, they didn’t even have a pediatrician. And, even in the midst of all these difficulties, Daniella remained optimistic and Rosivaldo sang for José Arthur to soothe him.

What does it mean to you to be a journalist in Brazil and to do the type of journalism that you do?

To be a journalist in Brazil is to try to do fair and impartial journalism in the midst of the greatest polarization in recent years and in an environment of hostility toward the media

COVID-19 made the existing inequality in the Americas more evident. What are the most crucial issues right now during this pandemic?

The most crucial story to cover is to show how the peripheral regions, where the low-income population lives, are suffering much more from the consequences of COVID-19 because public hospitals are of low quality; they cannot practice social distancing because they need to go to work when they still have jobs; and children do not have access to education, because they don't even have an adequate internet connection for virtual classes.

Since the publishing “Businessmen fund campaign against PT via WhatsApp,” you have been the target of virtual attacks, even from the president himself, but you have also received a lot of support. How has this affected your professional routine and, if applicable, your personal routine?

I had to walk with bodyguards for a while, and I am suing various authorities who committed sexual insinuations [against me], including President Jair Bolsonaro. But today, I do my job normally.

What is the biggest threat you see to journalism in Brazil and how does one face it?

The biggest threat to journalism in Brazil is the avalanche of disinformation and the government’s frontal attacks. To confront it, it is necessary to continue doing journalism, and to not allow it to intimidate us.  

This story was originally written in Portuguese and was translated by Perla Arellano Fraire.