Knight Center launches timeline of judicial censorship in Brazil
While freedom of expression remains a fundamental right guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution, the court system has become an effective tool for crippling media organizations and silencing critical journalists and bloggers in the country. A timeline from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas shows that there were 16 cases of the courts being used to censor journalists in 2012 alone.
The timeline "Robed censorship in Brazil" is an interactive tool created to record cases of judicial censorship starting in 2012 and will be continuously updated. Cases recorded show that these are not isolated events and constitute a legitimate threat to freedom of expression and information in Brazil.
Click here to view the timeline in English.
The majority of the lawsuits seeks to remove content published by media organizations and distributed by public authorities. Many are successful, especially in the initial trial. Such was the case, for example, of the online newspaper Século Diário, in Espíritu Santo, sentenced by a judge to remove five published pieces--three reports and two editorials--about the performance of a local prosecutor.
Similarly, the newspaper Jornal do Povo in Cachoeira do Sul was forced to take down an investigation from its website about a Public Ministry investigation into a vote-buying scandal. In Campo Mourão, a court order banned a newspaper from mentioning the name of the city's mayor-elect.
The most severe cases involve demands for compensation that would be a death sentence for some media organizations. This is what happened with the newspaper Já, a community newspaper in Porto Alegre that circulated for 26 years until it was forced to close after being sentenced to pay moral damages to the mother of the former governor of Rio Grade do Sul, Germano Rigotto.
Judicial setbacks are not the only threat to the activities of journalists, bloggers and media outlets. A flood of lawsuits against one defendant all at once, like that suffered by the website Congresso em Foco and journalist Fernando Pannunzio, made it impossible for them to appear at all of the hearings and pay for legal representation.
In the first two months of 2013, there have already been two stand-out cases. The first is the sentence against Lúcio Flávio Pinto, one of Brazil's most respected journalists, to pay over $200,000 in damages to businessman Romulo Maiorana Júnior for publishing a report about the plaintiff's media companies. The second involved the Public Ministry of Sergipe's criminal charges against José Cristian Góes for writing a fictional blog post for the website Infonet.
International organizations like the Inter American Press Association and Freedom House have named judicial harassment the principal threat to freedom of expression in Brazil. Court censorship also contributed to Brazil's poor ranking in Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index, coming in at 108 out of the 179 countries surveyed, its second consecutive year of decline.
In response to this situation, the National Justice Council created the National Forum of Judicial Authority and Freedom in November 2012, a commission established to monitor decisions that involve freedom of the press. In the three months since its creation, the commission is still without a board, which will be made up of representatives from the judiciary and the media.
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