Brazil’s official Covid-19 website was taken down late in the day on Friday, 5 June. The site returned on the afternoon of Saturday, 6 June, but is no longer disseminating fundamentally important information required to control the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the cumulative number of infections and deaths. In addition, the updated site prevents data downloads.
Other retroactive measures were also adopted to undermine access to information. A database with Brazil’s Covid-19 history has disappeared from the Sistema Único de Salud (Unified Health System) website. The Health Ministry also announced there would be a re-count of the number of deaths and, without any proof, accused state officials of falsifying information. These actions represent a serious obstruction of access to public information.
The removal of an official information portal should be viewed with serious concern. Transparency mechanisms are fundamentally important in a democracy since they pave the way for accountability and public participation. Lack of transparency during a pandemic can cost lives.
The issues noted above have been further exacerbated by President Jair Bolsonaro’s reference to some of the changes being implemented based on a desire to undermine news coverage about the pandemic. When questioned by reporters about delays in the release of pandemic data, the president responded, “there goes the story for Jornal Nacional (Brazil’s most widely broadcast news programme).” The use of public resources to attack the press is not a new tactic for Bolsonaro’s government.
The lack of official figures regarding the pandemic represents both an erosion of access to information and an attack on press freedom and freedom of expression. These are not isolated incidents, rather they form part of a scenario of continual and systematic use of public systems to hinder the work of commentators, creating a hostile environment for media professionals and, at the same time, reducing the transparency of Bolsonaro’s government. Actions such as these also violate the right to information of Brazil’s citizens, which is particularly egregious in the context of the current public health emergency.
This attempt by the federal government to control the pandemic narrative, via a lack of transparency and information exchanges that are not based on reality or scientifically valid findings, calls into question not only democratic values but also the lives of thousands of individuals, particularly those who are most vulnerable.
IFEX-ALC, along with its Brazilian member organisations, ABRAJI and ARTIGO 19 (ARTICLE 19), condemn this abuse of power perpetrated by the highest levels of the Brazilian federal government—in particular the attempt to obstruct information rights and journalism activities, which conceals information of vital importance to the public. We call on other authorities within the country to investigate and punish with utmost rigour misconduct of this nature. The current situation requires joint efforts to protect the country and its citizens, and to defend transparency, freedom and democracy.
IFEX-ALC, which forms part of the global IFEX network, is comprised of 24 organisations in 14 Latin America and Caribbean countries dedicated to defending freedom of expression and press freedom.
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Source: MEDIA FEED