Brazilian Press Skimps on FOI Coverage, Study Says

8 October 2010

The press “has paid little attention to what is widely believed to be the most important measure in promoting governmental transparency,” a proposed freedom of information law, according to a study by Greg Michener in an article on the blog run by the Knight Center, a U.S. organization supporting journalists.

The relatively weak news media coverage of a freedom of information law in Brazil is one of the key factors that can explain why proposals have been floating around Congress since 2003 without finding closure and, consequently, why citizens still have no right to access information,” according to Michener, a contributor.

Media associations in Brazil support a FOI, but don’t write about it much, said Michener, whose research has indicated that elsewhere in Latin America such coverage has encouraged passage of FOI laws.

His conclusions about Brazil are based on a content analysis that examined eleven months of coverage, from the FOI bill’s entry into Congress in May 2009 until it was enacted by the Chamber of Deputies in April 2010.  (See report by Michener on the legislative situation in Brazil.)

Michener found:

During that time, the Folha de São Paulo newspaper published an average of 4.2 news items per month that mentioned access to information as a citizen right or a legal measure. However, only 1.5 news items per month directly addressed the issue of a prospective freedom of information law. Most of these news items were penned by one author, Fernando Rodrigues. A general survey of other leading Brazilian newspapers tells a similar story.

By contrast, during the 2001-02 Mexican campaign for a law, the newspapers El Universal and Reforma both published an average of 12 news items per month directly on the issue of a freedom of information law. Enacted in May 2002, the Mexican law has since become an international standard in disclosure legislation. The media has played no small part in this accomplishment.

Relative silence among the Brazilian news media is surprising, particularly given recent evidence linking flagrant nepotism and bribery to the Chief of State’s Office (Casa Civil). In other countries, such as Chile, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, corruption scandals were the events that triggered strong media campaigns for greater disclosure through freedom of information laws.

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