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Why Kill Journalists?

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Why Kill Journalists?

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By Eugênio Bucci, Brazil

On Monday, April 23rd, at 11:30 pm, yet another journalist was murdered in Brazil. Décio Sá was shot six times in a bar in the city of São Luís, capital of the northern state of Maranhão. The 42 year-old and was a reporter for the newspaper O Estado do Maranhão. Décio was the fourth news professional murdered in the country in 2012.

Two suspected accomplices to Décio Sá’s murder have been arrested, but impunity is not under control - quite the contrary. The record of overall police investigation is far from positive, but when it comes to the homicide of newsmen, it is plainly negative. According to a recent survey – which doesn’t include cases from 2012 - 70% of these murders committed in the past 20 years haven’t been cleared up. It seems that crime does pay when it is against the press. Drug dealers, militia leaders and corrupt authorities take turns ordering the crimes, but the police can’t arrest any of them and rarely does Justice get to bring charges.

The situation is alarming, says Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), based in Switzerland. Last week, Jamil Chade, the correspondent for this paper in Geneva, reported Colville’s statement: "We are alarmed by the fact that yet another journalist has been killed this year. (...) We have asked the (Brazilian) government to implement immediate protection measures to avoid further incidents."

He is right. A country where reporters are executed in this manner is a country where the right to information has been sequestered. If such crimes prosper, the freedom of the press inevitably retracts. And, at the very least, self-censorship follows: to protect the life of their employees, newspapers begin to internalise fear. There’s no avoiding it. This is what has been happening in a number of newspapers in Mexico.

Last Thursday, at his lecture for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) in Santiago, Chile, Mexican journalist Javier Garza from the daily paper El Siglo de Torreón, showed what the drug war has produced in his country. Six thousand people were murdered in 2011 alone. Reporters and editors are threatened on a daily basis. Offenders regularly machine-gun with their AK-47 the front of journalists’ homes, terrorising their families. The result: newspapers don’t cover and print everything they should. That’s no surprise. In view of the complete lack of security in some Mexican cities today, sending teams to photograph where a massacre has just taken place may represent the risk of death.

To sum up, if newspapers do not give coverage, citizens cannot know what goes on in their city and country. With guaranteed impunity, lawbreakers escape unblemished, leaving hanging in the air the disturbing suggestion that there might be a criminal partnership between inert authorities and bloodthirsty offenders. The first do nothing; the latter shoot at their leisure.

This is precisely the scenario that another Mexican journalist, Anabel Hernández, who also spoke at WAN-IFRA’s Santiago meeting, described. An investigative reporter, laureate of the 2012 Golden Pen of Freedom, an award granted by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, Anabel did not mince her words: " Mexico is a perfect criminal state today. Thinking that, saying that, writing that can be much more dangerous than being a drug dealer."

Let’s get back to our question: why kill journalists?

If the State does not accomplish its duty to safeguard people’s right to life and safety, it automatically sabotages society’s right to have access to information. In other words, the law of the jungle rules and the premise that assures the survival of the press as an institution no longer exists. For that reason, the UN is right to require that governments and authorities clear up and bring to trial crimes perpetrated against journalists. The state is indeed responsible for the chaos - a chaos of disinformation, one should add – to which are submitted many communities in Mexico - and some families in Brazil.

From this perspective, we can see with crystal clear transparency, almost as though looking through a magnifying glass, that the bonds that connect corruption, judicial ineffectiveness, drug trafficking and extermination groups exist in a required symbiosis. It is the interest of all of these hubs of criminality to exercise power through illegal privatised violence. For that reason they also take great interest in the suppression of the free press. And so, they divide the different tasks at hand amongst themselves: some kill reporters and others guarantee impunity - for impunity is only truly viable when the press is cornered, bullied and threatened with death.

A Judiciary that does not judge, a police force that does not investigate, governors who pretend it is none of their business, traffickers who bribe politicians, militias who promote massacres: these are all different exponents of the same machine that has been undermining the rule of law and threatening freedom. The picture grows even darker when governments are mobilised to arrest journalists or take newspapers to bankruptcy. That is what Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, tried to do earlier this year, only to later find himself forced to retreat.

There is no doubt that a doctrinaire anti-press discourse has been gaining body on our continent. Waving the flag of the fight against mistakes made by journalists - mistakes that can indeed be regrettable – is a discourse that attacks not the errors but the very institution of the free press, and finds a thousand different ways to restrict it. From that arises a cultural broth that, by demonising the media, further eases the routine of drug dealers and of those who kill journalists – who kill journalists to oppress the public.




Eugenio Bucci is a journalist and a professor at the School of Communication and Arts at University of Sao Paulo.

He has managed several magazines as well as worked as a tv and culture critic for Folha de Sao Paulo, O Estado de Sao Paulo and Jornal do Brasil.

From 2003 to 2007, Mr. Bucci managed Radiobrás and his management of it was aknowledged by several sectors in the country. Mr. Bucci, is also author of several books on communication, television and journalist ethics such as "Videologías"  co-written with María Rita Kehl.

A version of this article was originally published in the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo on 3 May 2012.

Translated into English by Fernanda Sampaio.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of WAN-IFRA.


Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2012-05-18 16:22

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In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...