texas-moody

Reporters Without Borders wants to increase its presence in Latin America, invests in a regional office in Brazil

Reporters Without Borders (RSF for its acronym in French), a nonprofit organization that defends freedoms of expression and information, has been investing in Brazil to increase visibility and presence in the country. In 2015, RSF opened a regional office for Latin America in Rio de Janeiro and launched  a version of its site in Portuguese at the end of November 2016.

“We already had a person taking care of the area, but the idea was to get close to the ground. We wanted to be physically present to get closer to the sources of information, the correspondents, to be able to move more easily to conferences and present the organization’s voice in the region,” said the director of the new office, Emmanuel Colombié, to the Knight Center.

According to him, Brazil is a priority country on the continent for the organization. However, the NGO had little penetration in the country, compared to Colombia and Mexico, where RSF has a historical presence.

“We also chose Brazil because we were less visible here. So the idea was to increase our presence and, at the same time, to continue to cover the entire continent,” Colombié said. For him, the organization worked hard with the Spanish-speaking countries, which ended up leaving Brazil behind.

“We did not communicate so often about Brazil because of the many problems that we find in the country and because of the lack of resources. But now we are communicating much more in Portuguese,” he said. The objective of the organization is to appear not only for Brazilian readers, but also for other Lusophone countries.

According to the director, the NGO wants to dedicate itself to Brazil because the country is one of the most violent on the continent for reporters, with many murders.  In 2016, three journalists were killed in Brazil. In 2015, there were five cases. He recalled that this problem is repeated in other countries of the region, such as Mexico, Honduras and Colombia.

“The killings occur where there is a lot of corruption and organized crime. Brazil continues to be a very corrupt country and, as a result, there are also threats; institutional, verbal and physical violence; and murders. This affects a lot of independent journalists, who are far from the big cities and investigate cases of corruption and organized crime,” Colombié said.

He also pointed out that violence against journalists has increased since 2013, during a time of manifestations. “In recent years, with the political tensions in the country, violence is growing. And there is no monitoring of this, there are no public data on these cases, so the work of civil organizations is fundamental,” he said.

Another reason the NGO worries about the country is the concentration of media and the lack of plurality, a phenomenon known in Brazil as “electronic coronelismo.” They are large landowners or business owners who have, at the same time, political mandates and media outlets.

“It is a mixture of economic, political and media power, the consequences are terrible for the quality of the information, because there are always private interests interfering in the editorial lines. This seriously undermines freedom of the press and of expression,” he said. He also highlights the growing power of churches, which own large television and print groups.

In addition to violence and media concentration, another issue that concerns RSF in Brazil is the constant use of the Judiciary as a way to intimidate journalists. The crimes against honor serve, in many cases, as a mechanism to silence reporters not only in Brazil, but in several countries in Latin America, according to Colombié.

Purposes

One of the purposes that the NGO intends to develop in Brazil is the protection and support of threatened journalists. Colombié said that RSF has a team at its headquarters in Paris, France, which provides assistance to reporters around the world. The solutions and measures developed by the NGO can be a simple sending of protection material, such as a bulletproof vest, but also the joining of efforts between associations and support networks in order to move a journalist from one country to another.

“We offer emergency solutions to journalists who want to flee their region because they are threatened. Some want to leave the country and we give them legal advice so they can apply for political asylum,” the director said. Thus, Brazilian and Latin American journalists at risk can write to the regional office for help. The email of the head of the office area, communication coordinator Artur Romeu, is aromeu@rsf.org.

If RSF does not have a solution to the problem, Colombié said that the NGO seeks to raise awareness and sensitize the international community, as well as pressure local authorities to resolve the harassment.

The organization is also betting on the creation of a national mechanism to protect journalists in Brazil. “Our office here in Rio is working with a team in Geneva to pressure the Brazilian authorities to establish this mechanism for threatened journalists. This has to be created by the government, but it must be independent,” he said.

Partnerships

The regional office, which now has only two employees, Colombié and Romeu, is expected to grow in the coming years. To account for the volume of work, RSF has a network of correspondents – at least one in each Latin American country – that monitor and keep the NGO informed about local issues.

According to Colombié, there are currently only four RSF offices, in addition to Rio and Paris. One is in the United States, two in Europe and one in Africa. The organization also intends to open an office in Asia in the coming years.

In Brazil, the director wants to seek partnerships, including with universities, to expand the work of the organization and conduct training for young journalists and also for the audience. “We want to have workshops on how to verify sources of information and identify false content or content influenced by private interests. This is very important in Brazil,” he said.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

More Articles