During this period, certain continuing issues have been of greatest concern, such as statements by authorities defending violation of the constitutional principle of not revealing sources. A bill sent by the government to Congress on September 19 which, in an attempt to set standards to criminalize illegal telephone taps, proposes the same penalty of confinement for two to four years for journalists who divulge such information this would have the effect of intimidating press professionals and the communications media, directing affecting freedom of the press.
The origin of the debate on the topic was the disclosure, in an article in the magazine Veja, of taps by official spies of telephone conversations between the president of the Federal Supreme Court and Senator Demostenes Torres, an opponent of party in power.
In August, the Federal Supreme Court—FSC—extended for six more months the suspension of 20 of the 77 articles of the Press Law (Law no. 5,250 of 1967), in accordance with a decision made in February, 2008, based on the opinion of Minister Ayres Britto in response to a suit brought by the Workers Democratic Party—WDP—on the initiative of federal congressman Miro Texeira.
Suits from organizations that represent press companies in Brazil have had the goal of ending the present Press Law and regulating the criteria and principles that assure freedom of the press and the operation of press companies.
After President Lula’s veto in 2006 of a bill that was to broaden the private activities of journalists, an agreement was signed with the Ministry of Labor for the creation of a tripartite working group—journalists, companies, and the government—for the purpose of proposing legislation that would regulate the profession of journalism. Two years later, the National Federation of Journalists—Fenaj—pressured the government, and a “Study Group” was established in August, 2008 for the purpose of working out a text agreed upon between the unions, company entities and the government, within a period of 90 days.
The Ministry of Education expressed interest in creating a commission to discuss the standards for graduation from journalism courses, identifying and defining more clearly the practical and theoretical knowledge necessary for graduation. Its objective is to study the possibility that professionals in other fields may prepare for a regular job in the media by taking a short-term course around two years in length
The requirement to hold a journalism diploma is also under analysis by the Federal Supreme Court (FSC), where two suits question the constitutionality of the provision of Decree-Law 972/69 which supports the Press Law and establishes the requirement of a diploma to practice the profession of journalist. The first suit, brought by Mariza Macedo Soares, has as relator Minister Celso de Mello, and the second one, referred to as a “public civil suit” has as relator Presiding Minister Gilmar Mendes and enjoys the support of the present Attorney General of the Union, Antônio Fernando de Souza.
The National Federation of Professors of Journalism disseminated an Open Letter to the justices of the FSC defending the requirement of a university-level diploma as a legal requisite for practice of the profession. As a way to pressure the justices of the Supreme Court, the National Federation of Journalists—Fenaj—promoted a public demonstration in Brasilia on September 17 past, mobilizing the 31 associated unions.
In order to fight the more than 200 bills in Congress that propose restrictions on advertising, media groups decided to promote the implementation of a “Forum on Freedom of Business Expression,” with the mission of defending self-regulation as the best solution for possible abuses or excesses of advertising. This “Forum” will also have the responsibility of emphasizing the interdependent relationship among democracy, the free market and freedom of speech—economic independence provided by advertising is one of the pillars of a free press.
Since last March, there have been ten new cases of suppression, or attempted suppression, of freedom of the press recorded in the country.
The ANJ has been a constant critic of those judicial decisions, in public demonstrations against them, stressing the unconstitutionality of the measures. As a result of this posture, the Association is being sued by Judge Hilhert Maximiliano Akihito Obara, of Rio Grande do Sul. In December, 2007, the Vice President of the ANJ responsible for the Committee on Press Freedom, Júlio César Mesquita, disseminated a note to the press condemning the decision of Judge Obara to prohibit the website Videversus, of Porto Alegre, from divulging information about the police investigation of an accusation against state representative Alceu Moreira. The judge took the criticism of the ANJ as an offense and initiated a compensation suit for moral damage, which is working its way through the state justice system.
Those cases in which the justice system takes upon itself the role of defining before the fact what can or cannot be published in the media are repetitive and attack the greater constitutional principle of freedom of expression. They harm the rights of citizens and constitute a lamentable anti-democratic principle.
Following are the most recent cases reported by the Program for Defense of Press Freedom:
April 9: Journalists from Poços de Caldas, MG, were prohibited by a measure brought by Prosecutor Sidney Boccia from publishing the names of politicians who hold public office. In the opinion of the prosecutor, the prohibition prevents these politicians from taking an electoral advantage from exposure in the media. Boccia also threatened to apply a fine of R$ 21,000 to R$100,000 to anyone not obeying the rule that had been imposed.
April 10: Judge Aluízio Bezerra Filho, of the Electoral Court of Paraíba, prohibited the Sistema Correio de Comunicação (which includes the newspaper Correio da Paraíba and radio and television stations) from publishing news about a case before the Electoral Court related to the supposed purchase of votes for the governor of the state, Cássio Cunha Lima, under penalty of a daily fine of R$50,000.
May 14: A team from the newspaper O Dia, which produced a report on the slum of Batan in the western part of Rio de Janeiro, RJ, was kidnapped and tortured by local militias. A resident of the slum was also the victim of torture and interrogation. The woman reporter, the photographer, and the driver from the newspaper were living as residents in a house in the slum for the purpose of reporting on the daily lives of Rio citizens in areas where militias are active. When they were discovered, they suffered electric shocks, kicks, slaps, psychological torture, Russian roulette, and suffocation during seven hours of confinement.
May 15: Journalist Edson Antonio Ferraz, of TV Diário in Mogi das Cruzes, SP, suffered an attack while gathering information about the three cases in which civil police officers are accused of crimes such as money laundering, corruption, and robbery in the city. Ferraz was going down an avenue in Mogi alone when the pick-up he was driving, bearing the logotype of TV Diário, was cut off by a Voyage automobile carrying two people in hoods. According to the journalist, the driver of the Voyage shot twice in his direction, but the shots did not even reach the vehicle. The case is being investigated by the Internal Affairs Department of the Civil Police. Ferraz informed Internal Affairs that five hours before the crime he had received a call warning him to the risk of an attack.
May 28: The mayor of Porto Velho, RO, Roberto Sobrinho, verbally and physically attacked journalist Paulo Andreoli. The mayor slapped the journalist, who suffered a broken tooth. The report had asked questions about writing mistakes in texts published by the mayor’s office. Assistants to the politician also took the microphone of Roberto Sobrinho’s recorder.
June 2: The prosecutor of Ribeirão Bonito, SP, Marcel Zanin Bombardi, made a request, acted upon by Judge Gabriela Müller Carioba Attanasio, to have copies of edition no. 58 of the newspaper Agosto, of Amarribo (Amigos Associados de Ribeirão Bonito) be removed from circulation. The digital version of the publication was also affected by the decision. The publication contained photographs and a brief history of all of the persons who had declared themselves as pre-candidates to municipal elections in the city, and an interview with one of the pre-candidates chosen by lot. Moreover, it carried the information that in subsequent editions all of the hopefuls to the position would have the same space available to express themselves. The prosecutor and law enforcement authorities interpreted the newspaper article as if it were electoral propaganda.
June 7: Private security guards that work in the neighborhood of Brás, in São Paulo, SP, used violence to impede the work of film photographer Verônica Aparecida Calisto Bernasconi, intern Amanda Souza Lima, and driver Rogério da Silva Corte Real, from TV Câmara São Paulo. They were doing a report on the streets Maria Maracolina and Orient for the program Guia São Paulo, when they were attacked by the guards. A man approached the team and shouted to them, trying to prevent the recording of pictures. Afterward, he called over a group of security guards, who knocked over the TV station’s equipment and beat up the photographer. Veronica had minor abrasions. The incident was reported to the police.
June 8: The city of Santana do Acaraú, CE, lost electricity on the night of June 8 while the program Fantástico, on Rede Globo, was showing accusations of corruption in bidding carried out by city hall. The report showed disputes over fraudulent bidding and reported on teaching materials in good condition found in the garbage. The 25,000 residents of Santana do Acaraú were not able to watch the report. According the electric company of Ceará, the cutting of electricity was the result of a criminal act.
June 13: The electoral judge of Pirajuí, SP, fined the managers of the newspapers Gazeta Regional and Gazeta de Pirajuí, and the Regional Electoral Court (TRE-SP) upheld the fine, according to the decision, for having disseminated information favorable to a pre-candidate for mayor of Pirajuí. The candidate was also fined. According to the reporting judge, there was no doubt that the articles had been orchestrated for the purpose of projecting the image of the candidate as a competent person of integrity.
June 17: Associate Judge Francisco Carlos Shintate, of the First Electoral District of São Paulo, supported actions proposed by the Prosecutor’s Office against the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo and the magazine Veja, concerning interviews granted by the pre-candidate for mayor of São Paulo, Marta Suplicy. The judge ordered, as a preliminary injunction, the application of a fine against the media because he considered the published interviews to be a violation of election law. Two days after the decision, the Prosecutor asked the same judge for the application of a fine against the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo and the magazine Veja for publishing an interview with the mayor of São Paulo, Gilberto Kassab. But a decision by the Superior Electoral Court, made the same day, determining that the journalistic content could not be considered electoral propaganda, made Judge Shintate rescind his preliminary injunction against the Folha and Veja and disregard the order of the Prosecutor against O Estado de S. Paulo.
June 21: The offices of the newspaper Diário de Amazonas, of Manaus, in the Amazon, were the target of eleven pistol shots, according to witnesses, made by a man on a motorcycle. The shots reached the exterior of the building and destroyed the glass façade of the second floor of the newspaper, where the president and vice-president of the company have their offices. The newspaper has carried on strong opposition to the government of the state and was the first medium in Amazonas state to denounce the misappropriation of funds in the region of Alto Solimões.
June 25: Acting Judge Ricardo Geraldo Resende Silveira, of the 10th Federal Civil Court of São Paulo, prohibited the Jounal da Tarde from publishing a report about alleged irregularities committed by the Regional Council on Medicine of São Paulo (CREMESP), in a finding made by the Court of Accounts of the Union. The report was to be published the next day by the newspaper. The preliminary injunction that prohibited publication was delivered to the newsroom of the JT by the attorney for CREMESP, Cláudia Costa. Two days later, however, CREMESP changed its mind and requested law enforcement to cancel the action, which led the judge to reconsider his decision.
July 2: Judge Sandro de Araújo Lontra, of the 254th Electoral District of the Region of Macaé, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, described as “extemporaneous political propaganda” articles in the newspaper O Debate and Rádio 95 FM about federal congressman Silvio Lopes Teixeira. The judge applied a fine against the newspaper and radio station, and issued his decision even after the Superior Electoral Court had made a decision that definitively clarifies that journalistic content cannot be considered electoral advertising. The decision of the SEC revoked a rule that had been used as the basis of punishment of media outlets for fulfilling their mission of keeping citizens informed.
July 8: Judge Betânia de Figueiredo Pessoa Batista, of the 20th Electoral District of Santarém, PA prohibited journalist Jeso Carneiro from comparing the administration of the ex-mayor of the city Lira Maia (DEM), with that of the present mayor Maria do Carmo (PT) on his blog. “No comparison can be permitted between the former leader and the present mayor; that is an indication of partiality which must be avoided in the press as a matter of ethics and as prohibited under the Election Law,” said the judge in a preliminary decision, responding to a request from the ex-mayor’s party, which is disputing the election of Maria do Carmo. The judge, moreover, issued another decision, extending the same prohibition and punishment to Nelson Vicenzi, the administrator of the blog.
July 9: Judge Betânia de Figueiredo Pessoa Batista, of the 20th Electoral District of Santarém, PA, the same judge who prohibited a blog from comparing the present administration to that of the ex-mayor of the city, made a decision in the same vein against the newspaper O Estado de Tapajós. While in the decision against the blog the judge was responding to a request from the ex-mayor’s political group, in the decision against the newspaper, the action originated with the current mayor’s people. The renewed attempt of the judge to interfere in an unusual way in the editorial content of the two media was flagrant. In the decision against O Estado de Tapajós, she determined that the newspaper should abstain from doing reports that make comparisons between current leaders and former ones, as well as between the parties with which they are affiliated, favoring the ex-leader and his party or disfavoring the present leader and her party, under penalty of a fine of R$ 5,000 per copy sold.”
July 28: Three photo journalists, from O Globo, O Dia and Jornal do Brasil, were overtaken by criminals in Vila Cruzeiro, in Rio de Janeiro, while they were covering the political campaign of Senator Marcelo Crivella for mayor of the city. The professionals were obliged to erase the files of photos from their cameras, which later on were recovered and published.
August 4: Judge Luiz Henrique Martins Portelinha, of the 101st Electoral District of Santa Catarina, called for the collection of all copies of edition no. 36 of July 25 to 31, of the weekly newspaper Impacto, of Florianópolis, and also to take the electronic version of that edition off the newspaper’s website. The preliminary decision was made on the basis of a request from a partisan group that supports the reelection of the mayor of Florianópolis, Dário Berger, because of an article published concerning allegations of corruption against him.