In Brazil, since Bolsonaro, attacks on journalists fell while lawsuits against them increased

Image by Fabio Rodrigues-Pozzebom/Agência Brasil, used with permission.

This text, written by Fernanda Diniz, was originally published on Agência Pública's website on January 31, 2024 in the section ‘Entrelinhas do Poder’. An edited version is republished on Global Voices under a partnership agreement.

The Annual Report on Violence Against Journalists and Press Freedom in Brazil, by the National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ), revealed a considerable reduction in cases of direct violence against media professionals across 2023 but showed greater use of lawsuits by those trying to hinder journalistic work. The report was released at the end of January.

The data reveal that there were 181 aggressions of various types against media professionals, which is a reduction of half from the 376 recorded cases in 2022.

On the other hand, lawsuits targeting journalists increased by 92.31 percent last year. In this context, censorship is one of the most worrying impacts, with Agência Pública itself being among those affected.

The survey is based on reports made by victims or journalists to unions from across the country, as well as by collecting news reports. 

The current state of anti-media violence has changed from the situation under former president Jair Bolsonaro, when constant attacks by the country’s highest authority were common. This period was characterized by attempts to discredit the press, along with attacks instigated by supporters of former president Bolsonaro (PL, Liberal Party), and himself while still in office.

One survey by FENAJ in 2021, the third year of his government, pointed to the then-president as responsible for one in three attacks against the press that year.

The violence goes beyond individual cyberattacks or physical assaults, and seemingly represents deliberate attempts to silence journalists’ voices. The use of lawsuits in attempts to intimidate journalists and avoid the publication of reports that discuss politicians or government officials has also come from politicians themselves.

One example was the legal action taken by Arthur Lira (PP, Progressives Party), president of the Chamber of Deputies and a federal deputy from Alagoas state, against a report by Pública. This resulted in the preliminary ruling that ordered the removal of the reports and columns from their website or face a fine of BRL 100,000 (around USD 20,000).

The content in question, which is of public interest, involved accusations by Arthur Lira's ex-wife, Jullyene Lins, and was supported by facts and documents as well as showing a commitment to contact all those involved.

Lira's lawsuit was dismissed in the first ruling by Judge Luis Carlos de Miranda of the 14th Civil Court of Brasilia. However, in the second ruling, Pública was prohibited from publishing other reports with the same content. The story was first published on June 21, 2023, and then taken down on September 18, 2023. The case is under consideration by the Supreme Court.

In an official statement presenting the report's findings, FENAJ's president, Samira De Castro, described the situation as ”very worrying.” She said:

Mostra o uso do Judiciário para calar os jornalistas. E o efeito dessa prática, mais à frente, certamente será a autocensura de profissionais e veículos de mídia porque esse tipo de abuso do poder de litigância tem efeito não só individual, mas coletivo. Os profissionais acabam devastados emocional e financeiramente, tendo de arcar com defesas em supostos crimes contra a honra que, infelizmente, têm apenas o objetivo de impedir a livre circulação da informação jornalística.

It shows the use of the courts to silence journalists. And the effect of this practice, further down the line, will certainly be the self-censorship of media workers and outlets because this kind of abuse of the power of litigation has an effect which is not only individual, but collective. Media workers end up devastated emotionally and financially, having to bear [the costs of] a defence in alleged crimes against honour that, unfortunately, only aim to prevent the free circulation of journalistic information.


Threats, harassment, and intimidation were the most common types of violence against journalists recorded in 2023. According to FENAJ's report, there were 42 such occurrences, representing 23.21 percent of the cases. In addition, 40 media workers were physically assaulted (22.1 percent of the total).

The data in FENAJ's report show that the Federal District, where the federal capital Brasilia and the main governmental institutions are located, recorded 21 cases. This indicates that it is the most difficult place for journalism, level with São Paulo, Brazil's most populous state, with the same number of cases. Together, the two federal entities represent 22.3 percent of total cases. 

According to the survey, one in four attacks was committed by politicians, the largest single group undermining freedom of expression. Following them are: members of the public (9.39 percent); judges and magistrates (8.84 percent); police officers (7.73 percent), and football managers, players, and fans (6.08 percent), as well as online aggressors.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.