Former President Jair Bolsonaro’s attacks on the media continued until the last day of his term at the end of 2022. The advent of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration restored stability to relations between the media and government. But structural violence against journalists, highly concentrated media ownership, and the effects of disinformation still pose major challenges for press freedom.
The Brazilian media landscape is marked by a high concentration of private sector media ownership, characterised by a near-incestuous relationship between centres of political, economic and religious power and influence. Ten major corporate conglomerates, owned by the same number of families, share the market. The five biggest are Globo, Record, SBT, Bandeirantes and Folha. The editorial independence of regional and local media outlets is heavily compromised by governmental advertising, and state-owned media were subjected to a great deal of government interference under Bolsonaro.
The 2019-2022 Bolsonaro administration was extremely challenging for the Brazilian press. The president regularly insulted journalists and the media and mobilised armies of supporters on social media as part of a finely tuned strategy of coordinated attacks that aimed to discredit the press, which was labelled as an enemy of the state. Bolsonaro has continued this strategy as ex-president, with the aim of ensuring that his supporters disbelieve the corruption allegations leveled against him and his family, the election results that brought Lula da Silva to power, and the actions of the new government. While President Lula tries to restore democratic principles in dealing with the media, he is constantly challenged by Bolsonaro’s supporters and far-right parties, who continue to try to destabilise the government.
The 1988 Federal Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, and, in general, the Brazilian legal framework favours journalistic freedom. However, broadcast and telecommunications laws are antiquated, permissive and inefficient. Reporters and the media are often subjected to abusive lawsuits by politicians and business interests, who use their influence to intimidate the press.
Major media groups are trying to re-invent their business models in the face of the global press crisis caused by the advent of online platforms. These corporations invest in numerous other business sectors, increasing the possibility of conflicts of interest and loss of editorial independence. Meanwhile, the local press is increasingly weakened and online media outlets are experiencing viability problems.
The aggressive rhetoric toward journalists and the press adopted by the Bolsonaro administration from 2019 to 2022 fuelled an increasingly hostile and distrustful attitude towards journalists within Brazilian society. Wide dissemination of disinformation continues to poison the public debate. Brazil remains highly polarised, and social media attacks on the press have paved the way for repeated physical attacks against journalists, seen in particular during the 2022 elections and the insurrection attempt by Bolsonaro supporters in the centre of Brasilia on 8 January 2023.
During the past decade, at least 30 journalists have been killed in Brazil, the region’s second deadliest country for reporters during that period. Most vulnerable are bloggers, radio hosts and independent journalists working in small- and medium-sized municipalities, covering corruption and local politics. Online harassment and attacks on journalists, especially women, are on the rise. At least three murders were directly linked to journalism in 2022, including the murder of British reporter Dom Phillips while he was investigating environmental crimes against indigenous communities in the Amazon.