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Despite recent progress, Brazil continues to experience many violations of freedom of information and, in 2012, it became one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists. Media personnel are often the victims of violence, harassment and abusive lawsuits, especially by local officials. Media ownership is still concentrated in few hands, to the detriment of community media.
Freedom of information made great strides in Brazil during Inácio Lula da Silva’s presidency (2003-2010). The progress included the 2009 repeal of the military dictatorship’s 1967 media law, under which journalists could be given jail terms for disseminating “subversive” information, suspension of a clause in the 1997 electoral law that banned cartoons during an election campaign, and a significant increase in access to state-held information.
But freedom of information continues to be widely violated. Both the Military Police and demonstrators were responsible for violence against dozens of journalists during a major wave of protests in June 2013, which highlighted the gulf between the image that Brazil wanted to project for the Football World Cup and the Olympic Games, and the reality behind the scenes.
Eleven journalists were killed in 2012, five of them in direct connection with their work, and the trend continued in 2013, putting Brazil among the world’s five deadliest countries for media personnel. Many of the murdered journalists had covered sensitive stories such as drug trafficking, corruption or local political disputes. Journalists are often the victims of violence by local authorities, especially in the north and northeast. Investigations have occasionally produced results but most cases go unpunished.
As well as violence, journalists are often the targets of harassment and abusive defamation suits by local officials, which in many cases lead to exorbitant fines and damages awards and even “preventive censorship” orders, affecting online information in particular. The number of lawsuits against journalists and bloggers began to soar soon after the repeal of the 1967 law.
The level of concentration of media ownership continues to be very high and contrasts with the very diversified nature of Brazilian society. Ten leading business groups owned by as many families still control the mass media market and broadcast frequencies. Media pluralism is also affected by the way the state allocates its massive advertising budget, which results in a degree of financial dependency and extremely close relations between media, private sector and government.
Community broadcast media continue to be the main victims of this system. Many of them operate illegally in the absence of a clear status and a concession allowing them to broadcast. A telecommunications law adopted in 1962 still controls the allocation of frequencies although it has never undergone a significant overhaul. Brazil continues to await new media legislation.
Updated in July 2013