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Public service, public trust and attacks on journalists

It has only been since 2008 that the complementarity set out in the Constitution gained ground in the national public-service media system. There is, however, some confusion between public service and state systems reflected in both the management of the Empresa Brasil de Cotnunicafao (EBC - Brazilian Enterprise of Communication) and in the more than 20 other state educational and cultural broadcasters. The reach of the EBC is quite limited, considering its objective of being a national public communications company and President Bolsonaro announced the intention, during the 2018 election campaign, to end the activities of the EBC. Already at risk, EBC has been fighting against restructuring since 2016: Temer’s government proposed and Congress approved a law abolishing the Council of the EBC, with the effect that the Brazilian President would appoint the president of the EBC, compromising the independence and autonomy of the EBC in relation to the content and procedures of public TV, radio and news agencies (Fraga and Durazo-Herrmann, 2019).

In terms of media self-regulation, even though the media companies maintain internal codes of ethics and journalistic practice, there are few self-regulation mechanisms in the field of communication. One exception is advertising, which relies on CONAR (the National Council of Public Self-Regulation) and is often criticized by civil society organizations for its lax attitude towards excessive commercialization.

An important number of journalists point to ethics as a major factor in journalism quality, pointing out that the main national media and communication associations do not have an ombudsman, capable of dealing with allegations and complaints from the public about ethical violations within media outlets (Leal Filho et al., 2012). The right to response is a fundamental right upheld in the Brazilian Constitution, yet this is not generally applied, due to media companies that do not uphold it, but its application is costly and often used by those who have more financial resources, such as politicians.

According to the Social Trust Index, measured by the IBOPE, the public’s trust in media has declined and is at the lowest level since the beginning of this survey in 2009 (IBOPE inteligenaa, 2019), which reflects the rise of social media, especially in the context of elections.The index has gone down from 71 points in 2009 to 51 in 2018. This trend was noticed in 2014 with data from the Secretary of Social Communication for the Presidency of the Republic, which commented that people did not have a high level of trust in news and commercials on television, radio, newspapers, magazines, sites, blogs and social media: only 41 per cent said they always or mostly trusted news on these media.

There has also been an increase in physical and verbal aggression against journalists, political activists and politicians. Data from FENAJ (the National Federation of Journalists) shows a large number of attacks being directed towards politicians or government authorities and 42 per cent are related to political issues or public administration. In January 2019, FENAJ presented its ‘Report on Violence against Journalists and Press Freedom in Brazil, 2018’. In addition to the general number of cases of violencejournalist Ueliton Bayer Brizon was murdered in Rondonia State. There was also an increase in the number of murders of other communication professionals compared to the previous year when a blogger was murdered. Four radio journalists also lost their lives because of their professional activities (FederafSo National dos Jornalistas, 2019)

Physical aggression was the most common violence mentioned in the Report, repeating the trend of previous years. There were 33 cases, which victimized 58 professionals, against 29 occurrences in 2017, an increase of 14 per cent. But there was a greater increase in the number of verbal assaults, threats/intimidations and impediments to professional practice. In 2018, verbal assaults and impediments to professional practice increased by over 100 per cent compared to the previous year; threats/intimidation cases grew by about 87 per cent (ibid.).

This significant growth is directly related to the presidential election of 2018 and the events associated with it, such as former President Lula da Silva’s appeal to a Federal Regional Court and his subsequent imprisonment. Of the recorded cases of violence, 27 were directly related to the election and 16 to former President Lula. The supporters of the populist politician and ex-army Captain Jair Bolsonaro of the far-right Partido Liberal Social — and now President of the country - were responsible for most of the violence committed. In second place were the truck drivers who, during a strike, also assaulted journalists in several states.

Journalists were also victims of politicians, police officers, judges, businessmen, football team leaders and fans. In addition to murder, physical and verbal aggression, threats/intimidation (especially on social media) and impediments to professional practice, there were also cases of restrictions on freedom of the press due to judicial decisions, censorship, attacks, imprisonment and practices against the trade union organization of the category (Ganter and Paulino, 2020). Data from the InterAmerican Press Society and from Article 19 point to an increase in the cases ofjournalists being murdered. Research in 2018 from the Committee for Journalist Protection (CPJ),a New York-based advocacy group, demonstrates that Brazil is the country with the 1 Oth highest number ofjournalist murders in the world that go unpunished. Between 1992 and 2018, 42 journalists were killed in Brazil: 40 of those were targeted for murder, and 28 of those were murdered with impunity (CPJ, 2018).

In 2020, FENAJ published a new report denouncing that President Bolsonaro was responsible for 58 attacks against journalists and media in Brazil in 2019,17 per cent of the total, most of them made during official pronouncements. Since then, threats against the free press and the number of aggressions against journalists have been increasing in the country, reflecting the polarized environment, lack of political and social stability and absence of dialogue and agreement.

Journalism training

There are hundreds of courses related to journalism, and more broadly, communication in Brazil - many have journalism training and skill development at the core of their teaching. The country has more than 50 post-graduate programmes in communication (for a list see Data from IPEA and Socicom show a great increase in the number of courses in this field. The number of registrations for communication courses in public and private institutions demonstrates a growth both in the number of courses available and the number of registrations, which reached 186,000 in 2012.

The indicators show that curriculum guidelines only superficially cover issues of media rights, ethics, regulation and public policies.The relation between media and the promotion of democracy and human rights is not even directly mentioned in Social Communication curriculum guidelines .This is why media education requires two graduation courses: either in secondary schools or in civil society organizations. The media companies are also responsible for capacity building programmes. However, studies from RENOI (National Network of Press Observatories) indicate that awareness of the importance of pluralism and the relationship between journalism and the expansion of democracy among journalists is weak, and there is a lack of consensus among media professionals around fundamental values of diversity and plurality, which has a direct impact on the quality of journalism.

The important role of trade unions and professional organizations is indicated by the guarantee of professional and union memberships and the consolidated organization of journalists and broadcasters across the country. Unions and the National Federation are recognized as actors to be heard. There are at least two dozen civil society organizations, which monitor content and media ownership in order to promote pluralism and diversity. Many groups focus on media criticism and defending human rights, including representation of marginalized groups such as Black people, women and children. In the field of public service media and community communication there are also various bodies as well as a large number of organizations that deal with issues related to the Internet.

Lastly, academic institutions have also been following issues about media policies, ethics and professionalism, as well as broader aspects of digital connectivity through various surveys and studies. Two such highlights are Laboratory of Communication Policies and the SOS-Imprensa at the University of Brasilia, working on the subject since the 1990s. Another is the Brazil Chapter of the Latin Union of Political Economy Information, Communication and Culture (ULEPICC-Brazil), as well as the Brazilian Society of Interdisciplinary Communication Studies (Intercom).

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