Brazil Mayor Endangers Journalist by Publicizing Screenshot

Riot police stand guard during a political gathering on March 19, 2018, in Bagé, Brazil. Bagé authorities showed a photo of local investigative journalist Giovani Grizotti on January 13, 2022, putting him at risk for retaliation for his reporting. (AFP/Itamar Aguiar)

HAVANA TIMES – Local authorities in the southern Brazilian city of Bagé should stop harassing and attempting to censor investigative journalist Giovani Grizotti and allow the press to do their job without retaliation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

On January 13, Bagé mayor Divaldo Lara and communications officer Roberta Mércio shared a photo they claimed is of investigative reporter Giovani Grizotti in a video posted on YouTube, according to a statement from the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji), a statement from the Rio Grande do Sul state Journalists’ Union and a news report from Revista Forum.

The video was allegedly in retaliation to Grizotti’s report earlier this month on allegations of corruption involving the mayor, who tried to block the publication for several months, according to court documents reviewed by CPJ.

Grizotti, a reporter at the privately owned RBS TV, an affiliate of the national Globo media group, reports on alleged corruption involving regional public officials and doesn’t allow himself to be photographed to protect himself. Grizotti’s Twitter bio describes him as a “faceless reporter.”

“Bagé authorities must stop any further actions to intimidate, harass, or censor journalist Giovani Grizotti to prevent him from reporting on issues in the public interest,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and Caribbean program coordinator, in New York. “Intentionally revealing the face of an investigative journalist in retaliation for his reporting places a target on his back and endangers his life.”

Grizotti’s report was published on January 11, 2022 after RBS successfully appealed to the Brazilian Supreme Court to overturn August 2021 rulings by the 18th Civil Court and the Appeals Court in Rio Grande do Sul that had upheld Lara’s request to block its publication.

On January 13, 2022, the video, entitled “Mayor Divaldo Lara reveals who Globo journalist Giovani Grizotti is,” which CPJ reviewed, was posted by a YouTube account called “Gabriel Lm.” The account has published only one other video, also of a Bagé city official. Although the video with Grizotti has not been posted by any official Bagé municipal social media pages, the video links to the mayor’s official Facebook page and features both the Bagé mayor and press officer.

In the five-minute video, Lara accuses Grizotti, whom he calls a “leftist journalist,” of “setting up a story” and addresses the journalist directly in the video, telling him to “show your face, be a man.” Lara also says he will “fight biased journalism, like yours, that attacks the President, attacks his allies.”

Earlier in the video, Mércio, who became Bagé’s communications officer in January 2021, according to a local news report and her Facebook page, accuses “leftist groups” of creating “fake news” with the “power to destroy someone’s reputation” and using the media “like a weapon” to do so.

CPJ emailed Lara for comment but did not receive any response. CPJ attempted to reach Mércio through the city administration telephone number but was unable to reach her or find any other contact information.

In a short statement posted on his Twitter account on January 13, Grizotti said he was being attacked by the Bagé mayor and press officer and the information in his reporting contradicts the “poorly edited video made to attack me,” adding that he would continue “the search for truth.”

“Investigative reporting is an important service that media outlets provide to the population,” RBS said in a statement emailed by communications officer Mariana Mondini, adding that “attacks against an investigative journalist like Giovani Grizotti, whose work requires being undercover on many occasions, puts not only his work at risk, but threatens his safety.”

In its statement condemning the mayor’s decision to reveal Grizotti’s picture, the Rio Grande do Sul Journalists Union said investigative journalists specialized in investigating criminal activities and corruption must “protect their identity, as they run the risk of suffering reprisals which can be extremely violent.”

“It is unacceptable for a public official intimidate and expose journalists in retaliation for doing their job,” Natália Mazotte, the president of Abraji, told CPJ via messaging app. “Through this type of action, the mayor of Bagé is signaling he doesn’t want to be held accountable for his actions during his mandate.” Grizotti has won over 50 journalism awards, according to RBS, including the Prêmio Esso Award in 2006 and 2007. The journalist was part of a team nominated for an IRE Award (Broadcast Video – Large category) in 2014, according to RBS, and nominated for an International Emmy in 2014.

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