The report on TV Globo’s “Jornal Nacional,” Brazil’s most popular nightly TV news programme, said President Bolsonaro’s name had been mentioned by one of the witnesses in the investigation into the March 2018 murder of Marielle Franco, a well-known human rights and LGBT activist as well as member of the Rio de Janeiro city council.
Bolsonaro, who is currently on a long tour of Asia and the Middle East, reacted furiously on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, insisting on his innocence and accusing TV Globo of “betraying” and “destroying” the country. “Despicable bastards, you are not patriots”, he said.
During a 24-minute tirade live-streamed on Facebook, he said: “The journalism you do is rotten, corrupt and immoral. You’re useless! You’re useless! You just publish lies.” He went on to threaten TV Globo with non-renewal of its broadcasting licence in 2022 and, on Twitter, he later posted a photo of a sewer superimposed on the TV channel’s logo.
The day before this tirade, a video montage posted on the president’s Twitter account showed him as a lion being attacked by hyenas, each of which were labelled with the names of political opponents, leading national media outlets such as Globo, the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, the magazine Veja and radio Jovem Pan, and with the initials of the UN, the Brazilian supreme court and several political parties including his own, the PSL, with which he currently has differences.
This video was quickly deleted from his account and he issued an apology, recognizing that he had “made a mistake.”
“President Jair Bolsonaro’s ‘mistakes’ and statements will have far-reaching consequences,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk. “By insulting and humiliating some of Brazil’s most important media, the country’s highest authority is feeding and sustaining a climate of hatred and mistrust towards Brazilian journalism. These repeated attacks are very worrying and Bolsonaro’s threats not to renew TV Globo’s broadcast frequencies in 2022 are extremely serious. They amount to direct censorship."
On 28 October, on the eve of the TV Globo report, President Bolsonaro said he had discovered a “certain affinity” with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, with whom he had just had dinner in Riyadh. The crown prince is suspected of direct involvement in Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul on 2 October 2018.
In reaction to the president’s insults, the Globo media group issued a statement saying it did “serious and responsible journalism” and that it had broadcast the report “on the basis of an official witness statement” that contradicted the investigation’s initial findings.
A judge’s decision in November 2018 to ban TV Globo from broadcasting leaked information about the investigation into Marielle Franco’s murder was condemned at the time by RSF as a censorship attempt.
Brazil is ranked 105th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.