Tips to report on Bolsonaro, Brazil’s next president

byRenata Johnson
Oct 30 in Journalist Safety
Brazil election

In the wake of the election of former army captain Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil's next president, many journalists are now wondering how best to move forward.

For many Brazilian journalists, who have faced increasing intimidation since the beginning of the presidential campaign, the consensus is that difficult days will follow.

Journalists are not just concerned with government hostility, but with physical attacks, online harassment and cyber attacks from Bolsonaro's supporters, who are fueled by amplification of misinformation and hate speech on social media.

In a country splintered along ideological lines, how can journalists prepare to cover their next president? Here are some tips we gathered.

Don’t amplify hate speech

Rafa Fernandez, a journalist who has been covering immigration stories and challenging the Trump administration’s narrative, warns journalists in Brazil not to focus too much on Bolsonaro’s sensationalist statements. “This gives him a platform; and we already know [his views],” says Fernandez, who is a reporter and consultant for Mexico and Latin America at Fusion Media Group.

Focus on holding power accountable

Journalists have the responsibility of holding powers accountable, which shouldn’t change with a new leader. Don’t simply amplify Bolsonaro’s voice, but instead, “focus on shady dealings, anything that reeks of corruption,” says Fernandez.

Work together

Before Trump’s inauguration, when journalists were threatened by his supporters, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued safety tips for covering the event. Among them: “Always try to work with a colleague and have a regular check-in procedure with your base.”

Journalists in Brazil now face similar threats, and this advice applies to them as well. In times when journalism is under attack, work together with your colleagues and consider collaborative journalism projects.

For example, in Venezuela, domestic and cross-border journalism alliances have helped investigate issues hidden by pro-government allies.

Be transparent in your reporting

The best investigation in the world will fall on deaf ears if people don’t believe in journalism. To counteract this problem, journalists have to make an effort to be transparent, says Tai Nalon, director and co-founder of Brazilian fact-checking site Aos Fatos.

“Explain in your story how you collected your information, how many people or databases you had contacted, and especially what information remains inaccessible. Always refer to the sources, give credit and do not rely too much on off-the-record sources,” she says. “This way, readers will have less reason to be suspicious of your work.”

Go back to basics and stick to the facts

Marina Atoji, executive manager of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji, in Portuguese), offers general tips to report on Bolsonaro’s government, or any government or person in power:

1. Be precise

  • Use and track public data relevant to public policy coverage.
  • Whenever possible and appropriate, request information through Brazil’s Access to Information Law.
  • Contact public agencies to request information or to understand the policies.

2. Gather documentation

  • Record any communication with sources — either by email or audio recordings — which is important for the accuracy of the coverage and to address questions after publication.

3. Be balanced and fair

  • Get in touch with everyone involved in a story — on all sides — and clearly communicate that this procedure was done, even when it’s unsuccessful.

4. Be careful with your digital security

  • Start with simple steps, such as adopting strong passwords and enabling two-factor authentication.
  • Back up files and contacts frequently.
  • When dealing with sensitive information, use VPN tools and encrypted communications.

Our readers often say they’d like to see more guidelines on how to protect against cyber attacks, efforts to discredit the media and online harassment, as well as how to deal with legal issues and protect oneself against physical attacks. Check our resources on journalists’ safety for more.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Alessandro Dias.

We thank our readers on the IJNet Forum in Portuguese, who suggested several of the links included in this post.

Updated at 3:57 p.m. on Oct. 31, 2018