Bol­sonaro com­mits to free press af­ter call­ing it ‘trash’

Gulf Times - - LATIN AMERICA -

Brazil’s lead­ing pres­i­den­tial can­di­date has vowed to de­fend free­dom of the press af­ter his tirades against the me­dia and re­ports of his sup­port­ers at­tack­ing jour­nal­ists raised fears that civil lib­er­ties might suf­fer if he is elected.

Soon af­ter de­scrib­ing the me­dia as “trash” in a Thurs­day tweet, far-right con­gress­man and for­mer army cap­tain Jair Bol­sonaro turned around and called jour­nal­ists “friends,” pledg­ing to de­fend their work.

“When they cover the facts, with­out po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism and par­tial­ity, the me­dia ful­fil the valu­able role of in­form­ing peo­ple,” he said on Twit­ter, adding “WE ARE AGAINST ANY TYPE OF SO­CIAL CON­TROL OF THE ME­DIA AND IN­TER­NET.”

Like US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, whose 2016 cam­paign he has em­u­lated, Bol­sonaro has de­rided crit­i­cal press cov­er­age as “fake news” and con­nected di­rectly with sup­port­ers on so­cial me­dia, where he posts video chats, retweets right-wing out­lets and sug­gests the me­dia is part of a cor­rupt sys­tem out to stop him.

In a Fri­day in­ter­view, his pres­i­den­tial ri­val, left­ist Fer­nando Had­dad, crit­i­cised Bol­sonaro’s cam­paign for “fos­ter­ing a cul­ture of vi­o­lence.”

Bol­sonaro sus­pended cam­paign events af­ter sur­viv­ing a knife at­tack dur­ing a rally last month, but still rode a wave of anger over po­lit­i­cal graft, ris­ing vi­o­lence and a weak econ­omy to win 46% of first-round votes last Sun­day.

Opin­ion polls show him with a dou­ble-digit lead over Had­dad ahead of the Oc­to­ber 28 run-off.

In Brazil’s most bit­terly po­larised elec­tion since the end of mil­i­tary rule in 1985, Bol­sonaro’s stab­bing by a men­tally dis­turbed man has been the most prom­i­nent in a string of vi­o­lent acts hang­ing over the race.

Some in­ci­dents in­volve his sup­port­ers al­legedly at­tack­ing or threat­en­ing jour­nal­ists, along with mi­nori­ties that he has den­i­grated.

Some of his com­ments have led to him fac­ing fed­eral charges of hate speech, which he has dis­missed as po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

On Thurs­day, a car trans­port­ing Had­dad was blocked by a pick-up truck in Brasília, ac­cord­ing to his com­mu­ni­ca­tion staff. The uniden­ti­fied oc­cu­pants of the ve­hi­cle shouted ep­i­thets against Had­dad, his aides said.

Had­dad said a man had been iden­ti­fied in con­nec­tion with the in­ci­dent and is be­ing mon­i­tored by po­lice.

Since the im­peach­ment of for­mer pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff, which Had­dad’s Work­ers Party (PT) called a me­dia-sup­ported “coup,” crowds at left­ist ral­lies have also been ac­cused of in­tim­i­dat­ing cam­era crews from ma­jor TV sta­tions.

How­ever, many re­porters say the an­i­mos­ity from Bol­sonaro sup­port­ers has been more in­tense, tar­get­ing spe­cific jour­nal­ists for so­cial me­dia at­tacks that have led to phys­i­cal con­fronta­tions.

“There is no doubt we’ve had vi­o­lent episodes and a grow­ing cli­mate of fear,” said Diego Es­costeguy, for­mer ed­i­torin-chief of newsweekly Epoca and critic of the PT. “Jour­nal­ists, blacks, women, PT vot­ers — many are afraid,” he tweeted on Fri­day.

“That fear is not para­noia. It is the re­sult of what Bol­sonaro and his al­lies say — and what the can­di­date does not say.”

The Brazil­ian As­so­ci­a­tion of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism (Abraji) has iden­ti­fied more than 60 in­stances of phys­i­cal vi­o­lence or its im­mi­nent threat against jour­nal­ists dur­ing the cam­paign and more than 70 cases of on­line per­se­cu­tion.

Bol­sonaro at­tempted to ad­dress the is­sue dur­ing a rare news con­fer­ence in Rio de Janeiro on Thurs­day, although his ef­forts were un­der­cut by sup­port­ers in the room. “Mem­bers of the press, or maybe I should say ‘friends,’...we’re go­ing to guar­an­tee the free­dom of the press,” he said.

“We want for you to re­ally be in­de­pen­dent, and be re­spon­si­ble in ev­ery­thing that you write,” he added.

But when it was the turn of a fe­male re­porter from news­pa­per Folha de S.Paulo to ask a ques­tion, she was hissed and booed by his sup­port­ers, prompt­ing party leader Gus­tavo Be­bianno to re­mind them of their com­mit­ment to a free press.

Folha broke news of po­lice in­ves­ti­gat­ing a se­nior Bol­sonaro aide this week.

Re­gard­ing the ag­gres­sions al­legedly car­ried out by his sup­port­ers, Bol­sonaro said he had zero tol­er­ance.

“If by any chance it was some­body who voted for me, I re­ject that sort of vote. They com­mit­ted a crime, they’ll have to pay,” he said. “My peo­ple are not dis­sem­i­nat­ing hate.”

Brazil’s right-wing pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for the So­cial Lib­eral Party Jair Bol­sonaro ges­tures at a press con­fer­ence in Rio de Janeiro.

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