Hailing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s intention to sign the Declaration of Chapultepec on World Press Freedom Day tomorrow, Reporters Without Borders said it hoped this gesture would finally pave the way for the repeal of a 1967 press law, a legal hangover from the military dictatorship under which journalists can be imprisoned for press offences.
“President Lula’s decision to sign the Declaration of Chapultepec in Brasilia’s Planalto Palace is an important, symbolic event for press freedom in Brazil, but it cannot stop there,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The declaration contradicts the law adopted by the 1964-85 military regime in 1967 that criminalizes press offences. The fact that the law is now hardly ever applied makes the contradiction all the more glaring.”
Launched by the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) on 11 March 1994, the Declaration of Chapultepec on free expression is not an international treaty as it was initiated by an NGO. But governments are invited to sign it and almost all of the countries in the western hemisphere have done so.
The declaration is based on a broad interpretation of freedom of information and expression. It says the right to inform and be informed “is not something authorities grant, it is an inalienable right of the people.” It upholds the right of access to public information (point 3), the confidentiality of sources (point 3) and the non-criminal nature of press offences (points 9 and 10). It insists that membership of a professional association and possession of degree in journalism are not obligatory (point 8).
Finally, it says that “licenses for the importation of paper or news-gathering equipment, the assigning of radio and television frequencies and the granting or withdrawal of government advertising may not be used to reward or punish the media or individual journalists.” (point 7)
The latter points are respected at the federal level in Brazil but are still ignored in certain states, especially in the north and northeast. And federal legislation still includes the press law adopted on 9 February 1967, which provides for sentences of one to three years in prison and fines of up to 20 times the minimum wage for the “crimes” of defamation and “insult.” Article 23 increases the penalties by a third if any of these offences is committed against a public official in their official capacity.