Greenwald harassment a worrying sign for press freedoms in Brazil

. Jul 05, 2019
Greenwald harassment a worrying sign for press freedoms in Brazil

Earlier this week, right-wing blog O Antagonista published a shocking post that went almost unnoticed. It stated that the Federal Police—which operates under the wing of Justice Minister Sergio Moro—requested that money laundering enforcement agency Coaf scrutinize Glenn Greenwald’s financial records. If true—which Mr. Moro has chosen neither to confirm nor deny—it would be an appalling attack on free speech.

Mr. Greenwald is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist ahead of news website The Intercept. For the past month, the site’s Brazilian desk has been publishing leaked phone messages exchanged between Mr. Moro and Operation Car Wash prosecutors, from back when the Justice Minister was the presiding judge of Car Wash cases.

</p> <p>The leaks show Mr. Moro failed to fulfill his role as a neutral umpire in the investigation. In messages exchanged (which have now been <a href="">verified</a> by multiple news outlets), the former judge recommended prosecutors include specific pieces of evidence in cases against defendants, coached prosecutors into speeding up or slowing down operations, and essentially acted as the lead prosecutor.</p> <p>Now, if the report on the move against Mr. Greenwald is true, the Justice Minister is once again using his power to go after one of his foes. <em>O Antagonista</em> has been the outlet of choice for high-profile Car Wash figures to talk about the leaks.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="" alt="brazil car wash leaks moro deltan dallagnol" class="wp-image-19832" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Sergio Moro (R) didn’t confirm nor deny the move against Glenn Greenwald. Photo: FP</figcaption></figure> <h2>The case of Greenwald and the &#8216;mysterious peacock&#8217;</h2> <p>After the first waves of leaks were reported, a Twitter account named the &#8220;Mysterious Peacock&#8221; published a bungled series of fake documents supposedly linking Mr. Greenwald and his husband—left-wing member of Congress David Miranda—to an international conspiracy to undermine the Jair Bolsonaro administration.</p> <p>He was accused of received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency—but the number formatting of the document was in Portuguese (using commas for decimal points) and the name of currency was spelled incorrectly. The move seemed as a mix of smearing and baiting Mr. Greenwald into revealing his source, which he didn&#8217;t.</p> <p>Speaking before the House, Justice Minister Sergio Moro said, time and time again, that the leaks were likely to have been funded by someone with &#8220;big financial influence.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately, if true, Mr. Moro&#8217;s actions would only be going along with what is already a very hostile environment for media professionals in Brazil. According to the 2019 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Brazil ranks only 105th out of 180 in a ranking of the safest places for journalists to work. A decade ago, Brazil held the 58th spot.</p> <p>So far in 2019, two reporters have been killed for their work in Brazil—only Mexico, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have had worse numbers. RSF has also identified several characteristics that make Brazil a hostile place for media professionals: from attempts at censoring free speech to the use of violence against journalists covering protests, <a href="">like we saw in the 2014 demonstrations</a>.</p> <h2>Media monopolies in Brazil</h2> <p>RSF has criticized the Brazilian media system, explaining that most outlets are controlled by a handful of very influential groups. The Globo group, for instance, is the world’s 19th-largest media conglomerate and <a href="">holds 43 percent of Brazil’s national TV audience</a>. When it comes to online content, eight in every ten Brazilians use platforms owned by Globo in some capacity, according to a study conducted by media measurement and analytics company ComScore.&nbsp;</p> <p>Many <a href="">outlets are led by powerful families with connections to the political class</a>. Take Brazil&#8217;s latest addition to the media landscape, <a href=""><em>CNN Brasil</em>,</a> which will be chaired by billionaire Rubens Menin. He is known for spearheading lobbying institutions in favor of big business interests, leading to speculation that the Brazilian branch of <em>CNN</em> will propagate his views.</p> <h2>Risk lies outside of big centers</h2> <p>In 2018, four reporters were killed in Brazil. All of these cases had three things in common: journalists were based in small towns, reported on corruption within the local political system, and were shot. Police haven’t officially confirmed that their deaths were related to their reporting.</p> <p>This year, two more journalists met the same fate. In May, Robson Giorno, owner of a local Rio de Janeiro newspaper, was gunned down in the city of Maricá. Less than a month later, Romário da Silva Barros was killed on June 18. He was based in the same town as Mr. Giorno, and police say his murder may have been politically motivated.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The two deaths in Maricá established a sense of fear among journalists in the region. Regardless of whether or not we know the motivations behind the murders, there is a sense of fear that curbs freedom of speech,” said Marina Iemini Antoji, Executive Manager of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji).</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/467062"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>President Bolsonaro v. the press</h2> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro has taken <a href="">several shots against journalists.</a> As president-elect, Mr. Bolsonaro blocked a list of media outlets from entering his first press conference<em>. </em>Officials said that there wasn’t enough space to accommodate more journalists, although some of the outlets allowed inside were represented by multiple reporters.&nbsp;</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro also turned to Twitter to criticize Costança Rezende, a reporter from newspaper <em>Estado de S. Paulo. </em>He tweeted that a series of edited leaked audio messages to claim that the journalist was &#8220;clearly motivated&#8221; to destabilize the state. However, this was not backed up by the audio. Mr. Bolsonaro’s move was criticized by Abraji and the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB), which said that the president was aggressively mobilizing the population against a major pillar of democracy.</p> <p>On May 7, Mr. Bolsonaro signed a decree to allow journalists to bear arms in public. His action was condemned by RSF, which emphasized that the president did not consult any members of the media before issuing the decision.</p> <p>“It sets a dangerous precedent and does nothing to resolve safety problems many Brazilian journalists face,” said Emmanuel Colombé, head of the RSF&#8217;s Latin America desk. “It is with the tools they use to communicate, not with firearms, that journalists fulfill their heavy responsibility to report the news.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Attacks against the media don&#8217;t come only from Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s camp, however In 2010, journalists reported that upon request by Dilma Rousseff’s staff, the Workers’ Party had illegally breached their opposition’s tax information. The party responded to such reports by calling the media elitist coup mongers.</p> <p>“We saw similar attitudes [towards the press] during Lula and Dilma’s presidencies, this argument that the press is evil. However, there’s a difference in the reach and magnitude of [today’s anti-press discourse],” said Ms. Antoji.

Read the full story NOW!

Martha Castro

Martha Castro worked as an intern at The Brazilian Report in 2019. She is a Brazilian journalism and political science student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at