Continuing conflicts of interest in the Brazilian media and a very disturbing level of violence against journalists have caused Brazil to fall another five places in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, just published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Brazil is now ranked 104th out of 180 countries, a position clearly unworthy of a country meant to be a regional model. It was ranked 58th in 2010.
Why has this happened? The most important reason is increasing violence against journalists and a lack of political will at the highest level to protect journalists effectively. As well as the fall in the rankings, Brazil’s performance indicator, which measures the level of media freedom violations, rose from 25.78 in 2014 to 31.93 in 2015 – a significant deterioration.
The Latin American giant nonetheless remains ahead of some of its regional neighbors such as Ecuador (109th), Guatemala (121st), Colombia (134th), Venezuela (139th), Mexico (149th) and Cuba (174th).
In Brazil, an economic recession and political instability have reinforced the main obstacles to media freedom and the climate of hostility towards journalists. At the same time, media ownership continues to be concentrated in the hands of leading industrial families linked to the political class.
The problem of Brazil’s “colonels,” which RSF described in 2013 in its report, “The country of 30 Berlusconis,” has continued unabated. The so-called “colonels” are usually major landowners or industrialists who are also legislators or state governors and who control opinion-making in their regions because, directly or indirectly, they own several local media outlets. As a result, the media are heavily dependent on the centers of economic and political power.
Brazilian media coverage of the country’s current political crisis has highlighted the problem. In a barely veiled manner, the leading national media have urged the public to help bring down President Dilma Rousseff.
The journalists working for these media groups are clearly subject to the influence of private and partisan interests, and these permanent conflicts of interests are clearly very detrimental to the quality of their reporting.
Brazil’s fall in the Index is also the result of the lack of a national mechanism for protecting journalists in danger and for combating the prevailing impunity for crimes of violence against journalists, which is facilitated by the ubiquitous corruption.
With seven journalists murdered in 2015 alone, Brazil continues to be the western hemisphere’s third deadliest country for media personnel, after Mexico and Honduras. All of them were investigating sensitive subjects such as corruption and organized crime.
Organized crime’s firm hold on certain regions far from any major city makes covering these subjects particularly complicated there, while the failure to punish most murders of journalists encourages their recurrence.
Finally, there has been no let-up in the growing problem of military police violence against journalists during street demonstrations, a problem that began in 2013. Both Brazilian and foreign journalists covering demonstrations are often insulted, threatened or arbitrarily detained. They are also often directly targeted by demonstrators, who identify them with the owners of the media they work for.
Published annually by RSF since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries using the following criteria – pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative environment, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses.
The 2016 edition of the World Press Freedom Index shows that there has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels.
Ever since the 2013 index, Reporters Without Borders has been calculating indicators of the overall level of media freedom violations in each of the world’s regions and worldwide. The higher the figure, the worse the situation.
The global indicator has gone from 3719 points last year to 3857 points this year, a 3.71% deterioration. The decline since 2013 is 13.6%.
The many reasons for this decline in freedom of information include the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of governments in countries such as Turkey and Egypt, tighter government control of state-owned media, even in some European countries such as Poland, and security situations that have become more and more fraught, in Libya and Burundi, for example, or that are completely disastrous, as in Yemen.
The survival of independent news coverage is becoming increasingly precarious in both the state and privately-owned media because of the threat from ideologies, especially religious ideologies, that are hostile to media freedom, and from large-scale propaganda machines. Throughout the world, “oligarchs” are buying up media outlets and are exercising pressure that compounds the pressure already coming from governments.
All of the Index’s indicators show a decline from 2013 to 2016. This is especially the case for infrastructure. Some governments do not hesitate to suspend access to the Internet or even to destroy the premises, broadcast equipment or printing presses of media outlets they dislike. The infrastructure indicator fell 16% from 2013 to 2016.
The legislative framework has registered an equally marked decline. Many laws have been adopted penalizing journalists on such spurious charges as “insulting the president,” “blasphemy” or “supporting terrorism.”
Growing self-censorship is the knock-on effect of this alarming situation. The “media environment and self-censorship” indicator has fallen by more than 10% from 2013 to 2016.
Every continent has seen its score decline. The Americas have plunged 20.5%, above all as a result of the impact of physical attacks and murders targeting journalists in Mexico and Central America.
Europe and the Balkans declined 6.5%, above all because of the growing influence of extremist movements and ultraconservative governments.
The Central Asia/Eastern Europe region’s already bad score deteriorated by 5% as a result of the increasingly glacial environment for media freedom and free speech in countries with authoritarian regimes.
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