Originally published on July 10, 2018, in the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas Blog.
People who knew radio broadcaster Jairo Sousa are still in shock over his death.
They say that he was very combative and “denounced suspicious bids, and overpricing in procurements carried out by the Secretaries [of the municipality]. He criticized the current city hall administration, some councilmen, and even businessmen,” said Angelina Nunes, coordinator of the Tim Lopes Program for the Protection of Journalists, of the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism (Abraji).
Nunes is part of the Abraji team that arrived on July 5 in the city of Braganca, in the state of Pará, in the northern region of Brazil, to start the second investigation of the Program on the murder of a communicator.
The police investigation into Sousa's murder is also ongoing under secrecy, according to Nunes. “The evidence is strong, pointing out to the hypothesis of his death as a consequence of his work on the radio, among other thesis," she said.
Sousa was killed on June 21 with two shots in the back while arriving at Radio Perola FM, where he worked.
According to the local police, Sousa was shot in the back by a man on the back of a motorcycle driven by another man. The reason and those responsible have not yet been identified.
His relatives told the Online Castanhal newspaper that the broadcaster received telephone threats before his death. A colleague of Sousa said to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) that Sousa, who reported on issues such as corruption, homicide, and drug trafficking, sometimes wore bulletproof vests.
Sousa’s is the second case of the Tim Lopes Program for the Protection of Journalists since the launch of the initiative in September 2017 by Abraji. It aims at investigating murders, assassination attempts, and kidnappings of press professionals and continuing the reports interrupted by the authors of the crimes.
“We are in the stage of collecting testimonies and material and documents," said Nunes.
Developments of the first case, in Edealina, GO
The murder of Jairo Sousa is the second case to be followed by the Tim Lopes Program. The first was the murder of radio broadcaster Jefferson Pureza, who was shot dead inside his home on January 17 in Edealina, in the state of Goias, in the central-western region of Brazil.
Angelina Nunes and Rafael Oliveira, an intern at Abraji, visited twice in Edealina, a municipality with 3,700 inhabitants, to investigate the death of Pureza. The first visit happened in January, two weeks after the murder, and the second in April, after the arrest and indictment of the councilman Jose Eduardo Alves da Silva, and two other men and three suspected teenagers in the murder.
Alves da Silva said when he was arrested that he had ordered the killing of Pureza twice, in January and December 2017, but that on both occasions, he gave up on the plan. He denied that he ordered the crime perpetrated in January 2018.
“Our mission was to arrive at the site and gather documents, sources, images, as much as possible, and make a previous investigation to identify whether that death really was connected with his work,” said Nunes.
“While we kept on interviewing people, we realized that in the city there was what in Rio de Janeiro we call the 'law of silence.' Everyone knows what happened, who killed, who ordered the killing, but nobody wants to speak, nobody wants to expose themselves, for obvious reasons,” she said.
The background to Pureza's murder, she said, was a fight between political groups in the city. The broadcaster belonged to a group that opposed that of councilman Alves da Silva and former mayor Joao Batista “Boiadeiro”.
Among the complaints regarding public administration that Pureza made in his radio show, two were the subject of an investigation by the local Public Prosecutor's Office and involved the former mayor, said Nunes. Her sources provided nearly 500 pages of documents regarding the allegations made by Pureza.
On the second visit, the Abraji team had access to another 400 pages of the police inquiry. According to Nunes, the investigation pointed to political and “passionate” motivation for the murder, due to an alleged relationship between Pureza and an ex-wife of councilman Alves da Silva, who was indicted for the crime.
Nunes claimed however that the evidence he gathered in his investigation pointed out that the radio host was killed for his professional practice. She recalled that a year before his murder, Pureza reported having received death threats and pointed to the councilor and the former mayor and that throughout 2017 the headquarters of the Beira Rio FM radio station, which broadcast the Pureza show, suffered two arsons.
“In the last [arson], they lost the transmitters, so he broadcast on Facebook. They were already receiving the new equipment, and [Pureza] warned everyone 'look, let's go back in full force,' 'no one will shut me up'. People knew he was about to come back with the radio; it was all set for him to come back at the end of January. He was killed on the 17th of that month. It was a death foretold,” said Nunes.
The trial of the accused suspects is scheduled for the coming months, and the Abraji team continues to follow the case.
Partnership with journalistic media
In addition to investigating the murders of communicators, the Tim Lopes Program provides for the formation of teams of professionals from various journalistic media to investigate complaints made by communication professionals before they die. The idea is that these professionals – reporters, photographers, cinematographers – will be sent to the cities of the murdered communication professionals to produce reports and give even more publicity to the irregularities that they had denounced.
The inspiration is Project Arizona, created by the American organization Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). In response to the 1976 car bomb explosion that killed reporter Don Bolles in Phoenix, Arizona, the journalist's colleagues traveled to the city to finish his investigative work.
So far, five media have closed the partnership with the Tim Lopes Program: Veja, Poder 360, Agência Pública, Ponte, and Projeto Colabora. The Program team is in contact with other vehicles and hopes to close new partnerships soon.
“The big problem is sensitizing vehicles to embrace this cause," said Nunes. “It is a greater cause. We are talking about the exercise of the profession, freedom of expression, and information. It is not about the scoop, the news that you have to publish as fast as possible. These are investigations that take months,” she said.
For this reason, the Tim Lopes Program foresees that the “loan” of professionals from the media in which they work should not exceed two weeks, so as not to disrupt the routine of their first newsroom. During this period, the Program will cover all expenses incurred by the journalist, as well as guarantee life and health insurance plans.
The material collected by the reporters will be edited by the Tim Lopes Program and, once ready, will be published on the initiative's website and made available for free publication in any medium.
“The good news is that vehicle owners, editors, directors, are starting to be aware of this. We know it is a pioneering project, which needs to mature, but we cannot wait for it to mature to put it on the street. We are already doing this work.”, said Nunes.