Marcelo Beraba Acceptance Speech - 2005 Awards Dinner

In three months, I am going to celebrate the 35th anniversary of my professional career. This award highlights for me the importance of international support such as that of ICFJ. Thank you for helping to create the space that allows us to do what needs to be done as journalists. I am delighted to accept it as recognition of a collective effort, in the name of my Brazilian colleagues who together with me founded the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism, Abraji, in 2002, and the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, with its commitment since 1989 to the institution of ombudsman and all of the difficulties that permanent scrutiny of the company and its editorial policy imply.

I would also like to acknowledge some people who have had or continue to have a very important influence on my career. First my father Elomir and my mother Maria Esther who helped me get started, and also my children and companions Ana Luiza, Olívia, João and Cecília; and Elvira, my wife who is here tonight, with whom I have shared two decades of dreams and challenges.

I should also mention my special admiration for two professional colleagues: Tim Lopes, murdered in 2002 by drug traffickers and the inspiration for Abraji, and Otavio Frias Filho, the Editor-in-Chief of Folha de S. Paulo and the principal person responsible for an editorial policy that defends critical, pluralist and apolitical journalism.

I thank the conspiracy of Bárbara Crossette, the Knight Fellow who secretly nominated me, and the kindness and patience of Donatella Lorch and Johanna Carrillo, my contacts at the International Center for Journalists.

In 1971 I entered the School of Journalism at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and simultaneously began working as a trainee reporter with the newspaper “O Globo.” It was a difficult period. In Brazil we were living with the consequences of a military dictatorship that prohibited political activities, imposed restrictions on the universities, hunted down those who opposed the regime and gagged the press. My generation of reporters graduated against a background of resistance to the military and the politicians who had suspended democratic liberties. It was very difficult during this time for the press to get past the official censors and exercise its role as public watchdog of the government.

Thirty-five years have passed since then, and today we live new and intense challenges. In Brazil, we have built the institutions of a democracy, but have not yet learned to behave as a democracy.

Corruption, so common in the former military regime, still thrives. It constitutes a challenge to the belief that the strengh of a democracy lies in its ability to solve its social problems. The major difference between our past and our present is that democracy then was oppressed by censorship. Now we have the opportunity and the obligation to confront corruption, and to demand solutions.

ABRAJI was founded in 2002, shortly after the murder of Tim Lopes, who had been working on a story on youth prostitution in a Rio slum. I worked for many years with Tim, beginning in the mid 1970s. We used to argue a lot about the quality of our work. How could we improve it? How could we make it indispensable to Brazilians?

The result was Abraji - its goal being to help Brazilian journalists improve their skills. We believe that the power of our work lies in our credibility.

We are living in a dangerous era. On the one hand, journalists and media companies are being questioned by an increasingly critical society flooded by news and information. On the other hand, the control of companies and advertising by a few select individuals and organizations is threatening our society’s confidence in the media as well as the role of journalists.

My recent experience as an ombudsman in the most important Brazilian newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo, has forced me into a permanent state of reflection about the role of journalism. What I perceive in our readers is a dissatisfaction with the product they receive. Our deficiencies are evident, and we have to work hard to overcome them.

There are legitimate demands from Brazilian society for quality, balance and pluralism. That is – quality of information, balance in journalistic coverage and diversity in terms of subjects, analyses and opinions. Our great test is rising up to these demands and satisfying them.

I do not see a peaceful future for journalism. However, I still believe that honest, ethical, well done work helps to build a more just, civilized and democratic society. THANK YOU.