By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – Rodrigo Neto, a Minas Gerais crime reporter has become the third journalist to be killed so far this year. The killing of the crime reporter from Ipatinga, is the latest in what watchdogs say is a deeply worrying spike in violence toward journalists.
Neto, who was married with one child and hosted a program on Radio Vanguarda and wrote a column for Ipatinga daily Vale do Aco, was shot by two gunmen on Friday (March 8th) as he was walked toward his car after leaving a bar he visited regularly, officials have said. His attackers did not steal any of the equipment he had with him, nor his wallet.
“The crime against journalist Rodrigo Neto has characteristics of an execution,” said Human Rights Minister Maria do Rosário, according to a spokesperson. “It was an attack on life, human rights and freedom of expression.”
Neto, like most of the other journalists murdered in Brazil, was from a small town and reported on crime, and local corruption – in this instance, amongst the police. According to local media reports, Neto had reportedly recently told colleagues and friends that he had received anonymous threats. The police could not be reached for further comment Tuesday.
“The majority of recent cases in Brazil are related to local issues usually involving organized crime (sometimes in collusion with corrupt police) and local politicians,” Carlos Müller, spokesman for the National Association of Newspapers, told The Rio Times.
Last year, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) linked the deaths of four Brazilian journalists directly to their work, the highest toll in a decade. Only in Syria, Somalia, and Pakistan was it riskier to work as a reporter than in Brazil in 2012, CPJ said, pointing out that such setbacks are particularly disheartening given Brazil’s status as a regional leader with a thriving democracy.
Few thorough investigations and fewer convictions have created a culture of impunity that means corrupt individuals see little risk in paying a hired gun to silence a reporter asking inconvenient questions, experts say.
“What we know is that all of these cases have something in common: the lack of investigation,” Marcelo Maureira, president of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abriji), told The Rio Times. “When you have nobody taking care to find out who was responsible, the sense of impunity increases and … killers feel more free to do the attacks.”
Compounding this, Maureira says, is that many reporters lose their lives while investigating corrupt local police – the same police who, once the reporter has been shot, are responsible for investigating the murder. “How can you expect a fair investigation by someone you may have been reporting on for their corrupt practices?” said Maureiro.
Abrij and other organizations have approached the federal government to suggest that journalist killings be investigated at a federal level instead of a municipal one. Last year the government came under fire when it raised objections to a U.N. plan to improve journalist safety and tackle impunity.
However, a spokesperson for the Secretariat for Human Rights told The Rio Times Tuesday that the government had, in February, installed a special working group to combat violence against journalists.
“Composed of thirteen representatives from government and professional associations, the board will review reports of violence against journalists, and propose a monitoring system to prevent impunity,” said a spokesperson for the Secretariat.
The spokesperson added that representatives from the Council of Defense of Human Rights would, in the next few days, travel to Minas Gerais to monitor the progress of the investigation into Neto’s death.