As the eyes of the world have focused on Brazil's recent political crisis, another crisis has been bubbling below the surface. A crisis where attacks on journalists, bloggers, media workers, and social communicators have shot up by over 60% in the space of a year. A crisis where the Olympic Games have been used to justify introducing new legislation and understandings of 'terrorism' to the statute books. A crisis where if you expose corruption, you risk your life.
For many years, Brazil has been a success story of the Americas and the booming BRIC nations: a steadily increasing GDP, hosting major world events, and becoming ever more influential on the global stage. However, as the economic prowess of the nation has grown, as have concerns for freedom of expression.
Where there are powerful economic interests and powerful elites, it not unusual to find corruption, collusion, and increased censorship. It's an almost universal truth that we find examples of worldwide: from the murder of Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres in March to the banning of a film about illegal logging in Cambodia last month.
We also know that investigative journalists can be a thorn in the side of those who would like to crush calls for greater accountability and respect for human rights. Now, ARTICLE 19's new report, Brazil: Violations of Freedom of Expression 2015, makes it very clear that in Brazil, it's not unusual to find threatened, attacked, and murdered journalists, silenced in their quest for the truth.
ARTICLE 19's monitoring throughout 2015 has exposed a shocking escalation of violence against communicators that shows no signs of abating. ARTICLE 19 uses the term communicators because journalism is a wide-ranging activity which comes in many forms. Bloggers, social media users, film-makers, reporters, and broadcasters, are knitted together to form the diverse, chequered flag of journalism: each play a vital role in disseminating information of public interest and sparking debates crucial to any democratic society.
Our research paints a picture where communicators are particularly vulnerable when their investigations and communications threaten to destabilise local power structures, particularly in towns and cities further away from the major economic and urban centres. Further concerning is that local public officials and traditional elites are implicated in the majority of the most serious attacks against communicators.
As internet access establishes stronger roots throughout Brazil, Brazilian society is turning to online communication as a means of debating and sharing information. Much of that debate is fostered by bloggers and social communicators who expose the alleged wrong-doing of those in power. As a result, ARTICLE 19 has registered a three-fold increase in attacks against bloggers directly linked to their communication activities and legitimate exercise of their freedom of expression.
However, the increase in attacks against bloggers is just one side of the story and it would be easy to assume that as bloggers have become more at risk, other more traditional communicators or media groups might have experienced some relief with attention diverted elsewhere. This is certainly not the case. What is most disturbing is that ARTICLE 19 has found a wholesale increase in attacks against all communicators. Just as 2015 was the most dangerous year to be a blogger in Brazil, it was also one of the most dangerous years to be a radio broadcaster, with three murders recorded where their assassination could be directly linked to their journalistic activities.
A culture of impunity is a common thread that sews together attacks against communicators. ARTICLE 19's research reveals investigations that leave a lot to be desired: local police implicated in the very violations they are responsible for investigating; and victims shut out of investigations and not provided with information on the progress of the case.
But impunity is not just about lack of accountability. Impunity kills. For those communicators who were murdered in 2015, every single one of them had been threatened or attacked previously. These are not isolated attacks. These are orchestrated attempts to stifle debate and censor expression in the most unequivocal terms.
It doesn't have to be this way. Brazil could turn it around. The State could take steps to improve the protection that communicators at risk receive by better resourcing and coordinating the national protection mechanism. The government could hold local officials to account and ensure greater transparency in investigations so that if progress is moving at a snail's pace, victims can challenge this and investigations can advance.
In many ways, Brazil is at a crucial crossroads: the shocking increase in attacks must provide the impetus to improve investigations and protection of communicators at all levels of Brazilian political, social, and economic life.