On 14 December, São Paulo federal judge Margarete Morales Sacristan substantially reduced the impact of a censorship order she had issued against the Folha Online website, which had forced it to withdraw 165 pages about a case of alleged industrial espionage on Telecom Italia by a Canadian firm of consultants, Kroll, on behalf of Brasil Telecom.
There had been widespread criticism of her order, including within the federal department of prosecutions.
The publication ban is now limited to the contents of telephone taps, e-mail correspondence, bank accounts and tax data. Folha Online will be able to post details of the legal proceedings in this case, and the judge consented to its request to reinstate information about the case which it posted on the site prior to her 9 December censorship order.
13.12.05 - Judge censors Folha Online, ordering it to withdraw 165 web pages
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the censorship of Folha Online (www.folha.uol.com.br/), the website of the Folha de São Paulo daily newspaper, which was ordered by a federal judge on 9 December to withdraw 165 pages from the site that had details of allegedly illegal services provided by a Canadian firm of consultants, Kroll, to Brasil Telecom.
“We deplore this judicial ban, which is both belated and incomprehensible,” the press freedom organisation said. “Belated, because it has been issued more than a year after Folha de São Paulo’s first revelations about the Kroll case. And incomprehensible because no such ban has ever been issued to any other newspaper that case reported on this case since then.”
Reporters Without Borders added : “Why prevent a newspaper’s website from carrying the reports that have already been published in the print editions? We hope Folha Online will be successful with its appeal.”
The writ, issued by judge Margarete Morales Sacristan of the federal criminal court in São Paulo, ordered Folha Online to stop publishing any more reports about the Kroll case and to withdraw everything about the case that was already on the site. Exposed by Folha de São Paulo in July 2004, the case concerns Brasil Telecom’s alleged use of Kroll to spy on its competitor Telecom Italia in 2003 and 2004. The newspaper claimed that persons very close to the government were involved.
A total of 16 people including Brasil Telecom’s former president are currently being prosecuted on a range of charges including violation of telephone secrecy, violation of professional confidentiality, perjury and crimes against the public administration. It was at the request of one of the defendants that the judge issued the writ against Folha Online. Referring to the criminal code and a 1996 law on telephone tapping, she said the website had violated the confidentiality of a judicial investigation.
Of the 165 web pages that have been pulled, 108 came from the print issue and 57 were written by the website, which is appealing against the order.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted National Newspaper Association executive director Fernando Martins as saying : “The ban violates the constitutional guarantees of press freedom and society’s right to be informed. It’s not just a case of censorship, it is also very regrettable, coming as it does at a time when Brazil is enjoying one of its best periods ever as regards press freedom.”