Reporters Without Borders is today releasing a report entitled “Brazil, the country of 30 Berlusconis” that examines all of the shortcomings of this South American giant’s media landscape It is based on fact-finding visits to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Brasilia in November 2012.
The media topography of the country that is hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics has barely changed in the three decades since the end of the 1964-85 military dictatorship.
As well as the ten or so major companies that dominate the national media and are mainly based in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil has many regional media that are weakened by their subordination to the centres of power in the country’s individual states.
The editorial independence of both print and broadcast media is above all undermined by their heavy financial reliance on advertising by state governments and agencies.
The media’s fragility encourages violence. Five Brazilian journalists and bloggers were murdered in connection with their work in 2012, making Brazil the world’s fifth deadliest country for media personnel.
Two journalists who specialize in police and public security issues also had to flee abroad last year, while the campaign for the October 2012 municipal elections saw an increase in threats and physical attacks on media regarded as showcases of the politicians who own them.
This report also examines another obstacle to freedom of information – the increase in judicial proceedings accompanied by censorship orders targeting individual news outlets. The best-known is the leading daily O Estado de São Paulo, the subject of a censorship order for threatening the interests of former President José Sarney’s family.
But the Brazilian Internet and blogosphere are also increasingly being targeted by court-ordered censorship, while netizens impatiently await the adoption of a new Internet law called the Marco Civil, which would guarantee Net neutrality.
A new media law has proved to be a divisive challenge ever since the press law introduced by the former military government in 1967– under which recalcitrant journalists were jailed and both print and broadcast media were subject to prior censorship – was belatedly repealed in 2009, more than two decades after the adoption of the democratic constitution.
An obsolete electoral law still limits political news and information, while ill-suited broadcast frequency regulation makes many community radio stations illegal, all to often leaving them to be ignored, like the grass-roots civil society organizations to which they are linked.
Changing the legislation would require the consent of the many politicians with media interests they jealously protect.
The new laws awaited by Brazil’s news providers are among the recommendations that Reporters Without Borders makes at the end of its report. The country has many strengths. Its diversity could become a model for other countries.