Lula must end hostile climate for Brazil’s media, hallmark of Bolsonaro years
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s presidential election victory is good news for press freedom in Brazil after Jair Bolsonaro’s nightmarish term as president, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), calling on the future Lula administration to clearly and unequivocally demonstrate a commitment to restore a safe and healthy environment for journalism.
“Attacks on the media have been the hallmark of the government under Bolsonaro, who created a climate of permanent hostility towards journalism during his presidency. Lula must end the constant hostility and adopt a language of openness and respect for the work of journalists. The new administration will also have to tackle structural problems that undermine press freedom, such as the increase in disinformation, violence against journalists, the lack of pluralism and diversity in the media landscape, and obstacles to governmental transparency.
After an election campaign marked by countless attacks on the media, mostly by Bolsonaro and his supporters, Lula won the second round runoff on 30 October by a narrow margin of 50.9% of the votes to 49.1% for Bolsonaro, who was seeking a second term. Lula will be sworn in on 1 January for what will be his third four-year term as president, having already served two consecutive terms from 2003 to 2010.
Disinformation and propaganda
The new administration inherits a disastrous situation. The press was one of the favourite targets of the Bolsonaro administration, which distinguished itself by its permanent attacks on critical media outlets. They included vilification, humiliation, insults orchestrated from the president’s office, and social media harassment campaigns, especially against women journalists. Difficulties accessing government-held information, disinformation campaigns and use of the administrative apparatus for propaganda purposes are other hallmarks of the Bolsonaro presidency that the new president will have to address.
The challenges facing Lula are therefore immense. RSF thinks it is essential that the president’s office should adopt a language and a communication policy that value the service that the media provide and that it should publicly condemn violence and attacks against journalists, particularly on social media.
The Lula administration must also restore the autonomy and editorial independence of Brazil's state communications agency, the EBC, so that the media managed by this agency become public service media instead of government propaganda outlets, as they have been for the past four years. At a time when media ownership is more concentrated than ever, broadcast outlets are being used more and more for political and religious proselytisation, and genuine media pluralism is visibly absent, the incoming administration must ensure that the EBC’s employees can work in a safe and healthy environment.
Disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic
Lula will also have to restore a real culture of access to state-held information, which was undermined by Bolsonaro. The outgoing president signed several decrees placing a 100-year seal of secrecy on compromising information about his family and government, including his disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It is clearly in the public interest for this information to be available to the media and the population as a whole.
The safety of Brazil’s journalists is another key issue that must be addressed. Physical violence and murders of journalists did not let up under Bolsonaro. RSF hopes that the new president will strengthen the PPDDH – the federal mechanism for protecting human rights defenders, journalists and environmental defenders – in particular, by ensuring that specific protocols are created for journalists and that civil society participates more in its decision-making processes (see RSF's detailed report on the subject).
Finally, Brazil faces the colossal challenge of combatting disinformation and extremism on social media in the coming period. The International Partnership on Information and Democracy, which aims to ensure a democratic digital space for reliable news and information by regulating online platforms, has much to contribute to the debate that RSF hopes to see resume in Brazil from 2023 onwards.