RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro repeated a debunked sexually charged allegation about one of the country’s more prominent journalists on Tuesday, drawing fire from press freedom advocates.
Bolsonaro referred to Patricia Campos Mello, a reporter for newspaper Folha de S.Paulo who last year won the International Press Freedom Award after coverage of his presidential campaign. She’d also been honoured for earlier reporting from the Middle East, U.S. and Africa.
A witness in a congressional hearing testified she had insinuated an offer of sex in exchange for help with a story. Her newspaper quickly debunked the assertion by releasing transcripts, screenshots and recordings of their conversations.
Still, Bolsonaro echoed the insinuation as he spoke outside the presidential residence in Brasilia.
“He talked about the journalist’s harassment, hitting on him. She wanted a scoop, she wanted to give a scoop, at any price, against me,” Bolsonaro said with a smile, using a Portuguese word for “scoop” that has sexual connotations.
The Brazilian Press Association issued a statement calling Bolsonaro’s comment cowardly and embarrassing to Brazilians.
“This misogynous behaviour is undeserving of the office of the President and an affront to the Constitution,” the statement said.
Like U.S. President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro frequently speaks off the cuff, doesn’t shy from comments perceived as politically incorrect and often uses the press as a foil to rally support. He has repeatedly said that journalists wilfully misconstrue his statements and are seeking to undermine his administration.
The incident in Brasilia follows two recent examples of Bolsonaro making offensive arm gestures at a group of journalists.
The Brazilian association of investigative journalism the Brazilian bar association’s press freedom branch issued a joint statement Tuesday expressing “vehement repudiation” of Tuesday’s statement.
“The attacks on journalists employed by the president are incompatible with the principles of democracy, whose health depends on free circulation of information and the monitoring of authorities by its citizens,” the joint statement said.
David Biller, The Associated Press