In a recent post urging the media to pull up their socks and take on Donald Trump, I made an example of a Brazilian journalist who’s defied greater danger in his country than I thought Trump could pose in ours.
An investigative reporter his entire career, Carlos Amorim has written books on drug trafficking in Brazil and on his country’s desaparecidos— leftists murdered in Brazil and neighboring countries when military
regimes ran them in the 1970s. He never felt safe, his daughter Raiane Rosenthal told me.
In 2016, Brazil ranked 104th of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders. (The U.S. finished an unimpressive 41st.) In Brazil, said RWB, “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.”
Rosenthal, a friend and in-law, has now passed along a comment to me from her father.
“Journalism in Brazil is a high-risk profession,” says Amorim. “We are among the most threatening countries in the world for reporters, videographers, and electronic media communicators. The picture is worse in the country and poor areas, where there are strong social and political conflicts. The most victimized journalists are those who deal with corruption, land tenure, and environmental damage. They can pay with their lives for challenging local power. In 2016, we were in second place in the number of journalists killed, tying with Iraq (4 dead) and behind Mexico (12 dead). Dozens were shot, but escaped.”
Seven Brazilian journalists were killed in 2015.
As Trump declares a “running war” against the media and his aide Steve Bannon says media “should keep its mouth shut” (media is fast becoming a singular noun), Brazil’s “climate of hostility” sounds more and more like what exists here. But there are important differences. Reporters Without Borders observed that Brazilian journalists working for the big media groups and “clearly subject to the influence of private and partisan interests” played a big cheerleading role in bringing down president Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached and removed from office last September: “These permanent conflicts of interest are clearly very detrimental to the quality of their reporting.”
We should hope the sneers and threats from the White House prove more inspirational than detrimental to reporters, regardless of the state of their constitutional protections.