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Billet de blog 13 mars 2019

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Mediapart fully supports Brazilian journalists targeted by Bolsonaro's lies

A blog post by a Mediapart subscriber has been used by Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro in an attempt to discredit investigations by the Brazilian press into allegations of corruption within his entourage. Amid the growing controversy, and to clearly explain our position, Mediapart’s editorial team detail here why we entirely support those investigations by Brazilian journalists, and why we disassociate ourselves from a blog post which was full of falsehoods.

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A subscriber to Mediapart since December 27th 2018, Jawad Rhalib is a Belgian-Moroccan film- and documentary-maker based in Belgium (the website of his production house can be found here, and a link to his most recent documentary here). Like every subscriber to Mediapart, he has an individual blog space within our participative website, with which he is given a large freedom of expression conditional to Mediapart’s moderation practises (which are deliberately applied post-publication), and subject to the respect of our website community guidelines.   

After publishing posts about cinema and his own work, he soon published a post in which he suggested, in a conspirationist manner, that George Soros and his foundation played a secret role in revolutions and popular upheavals, notably in Arab and African countries – a favourite theme for conservative and reactionary networks.

Subsequently, on March 6th, he published another blog post entitled “Où va la presse ?” (Where is the press heading?) in which he cast discredit on investigations led by Brazilian journalists into suspected corruption by Flávio Bolsonaro, a son of Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. Four days later, on March 10th, a report about that blog post was published by Terça Livre,  a website that supports Jair Bolsonaro, and it was immediately relayed by the powerful online networks run by Brazil’s rightwing and far-right.

Meanwhile, local media in Brazil have revealed how administrators of Facebook accounts that leant support to Bolsonaro during his presidential election campaign have been appointed to different posts in the new government, or as parliamentary attachés. The author of the article that appeared on Terça Livre also works, since February 2nd, for a Member of Parliament from Bolsonaro’s PSL party.        

Jawad Rhalib’s blog post on Mediapart prompted huge reaction in Brazil, and was cited by the Brazilian president himself  in a message on Twitter.

So just why was this blog piece, posted from Belgium on the Club (community) section of an online French journal (Mediapart) that has more than 2,000 permanently active subscriber blogs, picked up so swiftly in Brazil? The reason, of course, is because of its biased contents, its false claims and its erroneous conclusions.

Claiming to base his information upon “an investigation into media reaction to the new Brazilian leader”, the author of the piece highlighted a sound recording in English of a conversation with Brazilian journalist Constança Rezende from O Estadão de São Paulo, one of Brazil’s four largest daily newspapers. According to Jawad Rhalib, the recording, obtained from a source presented as being “a student from a famous British university” (and who in the audio appears to have a North American accent), “reveals that the true motive behind the negative media coverage is that of ‘ruining’ President Jair Bolsonaro and to prompt his destitution”.

Publishing both the recording and a transcription of the conversation in English, he concluded: “This case study about how the partial Brazilian media deals with news reveals that they are not interested in real events, but rather simply use negative stories, often invented, about the family of President Bolsonaro who, it might be mentioned in passing, was democratically elected.” Better known as a filmmaker than a journalist, Jawad Rhalib insisted: “Let’s be clear: I am not a supporter of Bolsonaro, but I find that to use the power of the media to attack a president via his son is, however, quite twisted and unacceptable for the journalist that I am.”

Whether he be of good faith or acting under influence, our subscriber, whose intentions and sources are unknown to us, in either case writes nonsense. The Brazilian media investigations targeted in his blog post are totally legitimate, deontological, and necessary for democracy. For it is indeed real events that are at the centre of the investigations into Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, the eldest son of the new Brazilian president. On January 25th, Mediapart published a report from its Brazil correspondent, Jean-Mathieu Albertini, which detailed (on our French pages, here) the accusations of financial corruption against Flávio Bolsonaro and which implicate his former parliamentary aide.

Furthermore, the several short extracts of conversation with journalist Constança Rezende posted on the blog piece in no way justify the peremptory conclusion that her investigation into Flávio Bolsonaro was motivated by the aim of “‘ruining’ President Jair Bolsonaro and to prompt his destitution”. In the recording, Rezende in fact simply analyses out loud the political consequences of her revelations, as we at Mediapart do when presenting the implications for democracy or law of our own revelations and reports.

In an often faltering, hesitant English, she simply stated that the case could compromise Bolsonaro, and she never spoke of working to “ruin” the Brazilian president as is falsely claimed in the blog post. Rezende spoke of no secret agenda behind her legitimate work as a journalist, in which she is investigating a case, based on official documents – and absolutely not on invented information, as suggested by Jawad Rhalib – that may be compromising for President Bolsonaro. The translation into French is therefore false, and the conclusions of the blog post are based on no concrete facts.

There is also the falsehood of the headline of the article published on Terça Livre: “‘Bomb’: the Estadã journalist confesses: The intention is to ruin Flávio Bolsonaro and the government,” it read. But that phrase was never uttered in the interview. Yet Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took to Twitter to publish the audio contents of the conversation, along with sub-titles in Portuguese edited by Terça Livre and which were totally misleading as to what Rezende actually said.

In his Tweet, Jair Bolsonaro declared: “They want to overthrow the government with blackmail, with disinformation and leaks”. The Brazilian president targeted Rezende and her father Chico Otávio (also a journalist, who has no involvement with the audio recording but who has investigated criminal gangs suspected of links to the Bolsonaro family), while denouncing a supposed media plot.

Taking inspiration from US President Donald Trump, it is not the first time that Bolsonaro has launched attacks on the media, but it is the first time that individual journalists are directly targeted. The intention is clearly to attempt to undermine the credibility of journalists and their respective media who investigate Bolsanaro’s affairs and the clan surrounding his government. While some among Bolsanaro’s supporters claim he is the target of a press managed by Leftists, it should be remembered that Estadão had supported Bolsanaro’s election campaign.

Meanwhile, Constança Rezende, whose photo appears in the Brazilian president’s message posted on Twitter, has now received threats to her personal safety.

Mediapart’s community rules governing comments and blog posts published on its website, include the requirement for all and any of its subscribers to abstain from the dissemination of “false information”. After verification, the blog post by Jawad Rhalib contravened those rules and has since been removed from our website. He has been informed of this and the reasons for that decision. But given the extent of the controversy it has caused in Brazil over recent days, and in order that everyone can be able to judge the situation, we have decided to include here a pdf document (in French here) of the contents of the original blog post.

Mediapart has already made clear its solidarity with Constança Rezende and all Brazilian journalists who courageously continue to do their job, meeting the requirements of our journalistic profession, in face of an authoritarian Brazilin presidency which is determined to silence and discredit information which upsets it.

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