July 9, 2020

Brazil: A coalition of civil society organizations takes legal action over attacks against journalists

Press freedom organizations turned to the courts to demand the implementation of stronger protective measures for journalists reporting from outside the president's official residence in Brasilia, after some of the country’s top media outlets had to withdraw their reporters for security reasons due to the increasing aggressiveness of Bolsonaro supporters.

A coalition of civil society organizations filed a civil action against the federal government due to its failure to promote security measures and ensure a safe environment for journalists reporting from outside the Alvorada Palace, where president Bolsonaro interacts daily with supporters and the press. 

The action was signed in Brasília by the city's Union of Professional Journalists, the Vladimir Herzog Institute, the National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ), the Intervozes Collective, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Artigo 19, which were represented by Aragão and Ferraro law firm. The initiative arose from the National Network for the Protection of Communication Professionals, a project that brings together organizations from all over Brazil and that develops strategies to repress cases of violation of freedom of expression around the country.

Since last month, some of Brazil’s top news organizations, including Globo, Bandeirantes and Folha, have stopped assigning reporters to the Alvorada Palace's coverage. The decision came after Bolsonaro supporters raised the tone of threats and attacks against media workers. 

In response to a claim by Brasília's Union of Professional Journalists, the Institutional Security Office (GSI) adopted new security measures and reorganized the space, separating journalists and president's backers. But the initiatives were deemed insufficient. In a conversation recorded by Bandeirantes, General Augusto Heleno, head of GSI, said that he would not curb threats and verbal attacks and that journalists had to “pretend they didn't hear” the offenses. 

The civil action points out that these attacks are not one-time events and that, since Bolsonaro's presidential inauguration and throughout his eighteen months of government, countless reports of abusive treatment towards the press by the president, his family, ministers and supporters were recorded.

According to the document, freedom of expression is an essential element for the construction and maintenance of a democratic State in its fullest - not only regarding the possibility of expression itself, but also the right to gather and impart information, intrinsic to the work of the press, and society's right to access to information. In other words, the protection of media workers is, above all, a guarantee of the right to freedom of expression, a fundamental pillar for the proper functioning of democracy and a prerequisite for the exercise of citizenship.

Before the federal government's omission, the aforementioned entities filed a civil action demanding new security measures for the area outside the gates of the Alvorada Palace. The lawsuit lists president Jair Bolsonaro; General Augusto Heleno, head of GSI; as well as the new Minister of Communications, Fábio de Faria; and the chief of the Secretariat of Social Communication (Secom), Fabio Wajngarten as responsible for promoting such measures.

After the filing procedure, it is now up to Brasilia's court to rule on the civil action.