RSF report criticizes Brazilian media for being too cozy with politicians and business leaders

By Isabela Fraga

Reporters Without Borders (RSF in French) released a report on the status of journalism in Brazil on Thursday, Jan. 24. The report takes its title, "O país dos trinta Berlusconi," Brazil, the country of 30 Berlusconis, from Italy's ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who owns of the largest Italian media corporation, Mediaset. Based on field visits conducted during November 2012, the report explores the harmful relationship between media companies and politicians, which, according to RSF, is one of the greatest hurdles for media diversity in Brazil.

The report begins its analysis with an examination of "colonels" in Brazilian society, archetypal large landowners or industrialists who also hold political office and therefore exercise great influence--when not directly controlling the facts--over the media and public opinion. Using their financial means, colonels are known to concentrate media ownership nationally and regionally, and harass and censor the press on more local levels. "[These are] distinguishing features of a system that has never really been questioned since the end of the military dictatorship (1964-1985) [...] The generals have gone but the 'colonels' remain," says the report, which can been read as a PDF in English here.

The concentration of media ownership (10 business groups control almost all media organizations in the country) was not the only thing that caught the attention of the RSF team. The government's large investment in advertising creates a dependency between media and the state resulting in a less polarized media landscape than that seen in Brazil's neighboring countries, like Venezuela, but also "financial servitude."

Judicial censorship and the Internet

As the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas has already chronicled, judicial censorship has become one of the Brazilian media's greatest--and least questioned--problems. RSF agrees. One of the best-known cases highlighted in the report was a 2009 court order banning the newspaper Estado de São Paulo from reporting on the business dealings of former-President José Sarney's son, Fernando Sarney.

This so-called "robed censorship" has hit the Internet's weakest members, small websites and blogs, especially hard. Internet giants, however, are not immune from judicial pressure. During the 2012 municipal elections in Brazil, RSF pointed out that Google Brasil had to remove or modify nearly 300 items online related to the vote. Between January and June 2012, there were more than 2,300 requests for content removal from the search giant's Brazilian office. A report from the organization Article 19 published in 2012 warned about the dangers of online censorship, pointing out that the threat of lawsuits push many bloggers and journalists to self-censor their work.

"It is hard to image that preventative censorship would be capable of containing the flow of news and information on the Internet. Nonetheless, Brazil's courts are above all targeting online information," says the report. RSF considers the passage of the Marco Civil bill essential for guaranteeing freedom of expression online. The bill defines the rights and duties of users and businesses that use the Internet. The press freedom group encourages the immediate passage of the bill, which has been delayed five times, to protect net neutrality, users' personal information and reduce media censorship.


Starting off the New Year with the first journalist killed in January 2013, Brazil receives little praise from the RSF report for its efforts to protect press workers. Nevertheless, besides the obvious critique of continued impunity for these crimes and the country's infamous honor as the fifth most dangerous in the world for journalists, the press freedom organization emphasizes that crimes against the press should be considered federal offenses. "However, while journalists need better protection, experience has shown that mechanisms focusing solely on safety do not necessarily also serve the duty to provide news and information," says the report.

Click below to read the full report:

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.