Brazil's Bolsonaro 'indirectly' censors media: RSF

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's government threatens press freedom in Brazil by using "indirect censorship," including virulent attacks against journalists, Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gestures during an event to announce the clinical study of the use of Nitazoxanide in an early treatment against COVID-19, at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on October 19, 2020. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP)

The watchdog group said in its quarterly report that Bolsonaro and his inner circle, including his three politician sons, had verbally attacked journalists and the media more than 100 times from July to September.

"This stance of open hostility toward the press has become the government's trademark," it said.

The Bolsonaro administration has also used "disinformation" and restrictions on official statistics to "control public debate and politicize official communications structures," RSF said.

Other examples include lawsuits against journalists by Bolsonaro allies, which the group deemed "judicial harassment;" cases of government officials blocking journalists from following their social media accounts; "opaque" management of official data on the coronavirus pandemic; and 13 new laws that restrict the public's access to information, it said.

Sometimes called the "Tropical Trump" for the hardline policies, vitriolic rhetoric and reliance on social networks he shares with the US leader, Bolsonaro won election in 2018 with a campaign heavy on attacks against the traditional news media.

He has regularly bashed the press ever since, at times flashing obscene gestures at journalists or walking out on press conferences altogether.

The most extreme case last quarter, according to Reporters Without Borders, was when he threatened a journalist who asked him about corruption allegations implicating the president's wife in August.

"I so want to pound your mouth with punches," he told the reporter from leading newspaper O Globo.

Brazil ranks 107th out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders' annual world press freedom index.