Journalists Under Seige in Brazil

" ... One has to admit that Western journalism, mainly U.S. journalism, has had better days. How can they define as impartial some of the stories printed in the last five years in the American press supporting Washington’s version of the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? ... "
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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Miriam Leitao is a reporter and columnist for O Globo and Radio CBN in Brazil.

In Rio, Journalism Under Siege

“Inside O Globo” is a column dedicated to behind the scenes stories about our work as reporters, published in the newspaper in which I write my own column. O Globo’s journalists are its characters. The last issue was not about one of us, but about Alan Johnston. Every journalist in the world shares his drama. Nothing justifies violence against journalists.

One has to admit that Western journalism, mainly U.S. journalism, has had better days. How can they define as impartial some of the stories printed in the last five years in the American press supporting Washington’s version of the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

The press that once released the Pentagon Papers rejecting the argument that to do so was unpatriotic behavior, accepted unacceptable surveillance and limitations in the Bush years. In the first months and years after 9/11, the national belief that winning the war justified all sacrifice, even sacrificing the truth about very controversial issues, leaders, decisions and information, captured the U.S. press. Nothing justifies censorship or lack of transparency. A day will come when it will be necessary to analyze this period sincerely and with self-criticism.

The journalists are often viewed as bearers of inconvenient truths in many countries, even in the most democratic ones. This site’s last issue was about a statement made by Tony Blair. The prime minister, due to resign next Wednesday, has many virtues: he is intelligent, a modernizer, concerned about climate change. In his biography, unfortunately, there is a shadow: he lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and because of this mistake, many young British soldiers have died. Is he a feral beast because of these deaths? I don’t think so, but this error is more harmful than occasionally wrong news. Ten years from now readers will not remember past sensationalist British news, but it will be harder to forget about the lives wasted.

The Brazilian press has been accused on a daily basis by President Lula and his aids of being against the government, against the country and addicted to bad news. A wave of corruption cases has come to the public through investigations both by the federal police and the press at an unprecedented level. President Lula loves the expression: “never before in this country” to praise his own government. In this case it is easy to agree with him: never before in this country have so many scandals of political corruption erupted at the same time.

The president’s evaluation of our work is the least cause for concern. The journalist’s most dangerous challenge in Brazil is to cover the violence in Rio de Janeiro. For the first time in our history, Brazilian reporters who cover the conflict at the peripheries of Rio have had to wear bulletproof vests. Five years ago a journalist was kidnapped and killed by drug lords. He was investigating a story about child sexual abuse by the gangs. Tim Lopes was a sweet and brave fellow. He was born in a poor family and thought that his black skin would be the perfect cover for his investigation in a “favela” about the abject sexual exploitation of young girls by drug dealers. Tim’s body was cut into many pieces and burned. His family and friends could only bury some pieces of bone rescued from a place in one of Rio’s favelas called “microwaves,” where drug lords burn their enemies.

Tim’s death could have inspired journalists to work harder in the city’s poor areas to report on crime, abuses and threats. But the opposite happened. Journalists have chosen to move away from the battlefield. They feel that the risk has become too high. Reporters now go to the areas where the poor live under oppression only rarely and together with special police forces. In Rio, journalism is under siege.

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/postglobal/miriam_leitao/2007/06/in_rio_journalism_under_siege.html