Reporters Without Borders today deplored a 29 May court decision preemptively ordering the O Correio do Estado daily newspaper, based in Campo Grande (the capital of Mato Grosso do Sul state), to pay a fine of 168 euros for each copy printed whenever it mentions former mayor André Puccinelli, a candidate for state governor facing federal money-laundering charges.
“Puccinelli had every chance to demand the right of reply or payment of damages if he thought he had been libelled but he instead got a court to ban a newspaper from naming him, although he is a public figure and is running for governor,” the press freedom organisation said.
“The court order is therefore absurd,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “It is also danger for the O Correio do Estado, which is not only the victim of prior censorship but could also be bankrupted. Finally, it is unconstitutional, and we therefore hope it will be quashed by the federal supreme court.”
The 25 April issue of the national daily O Estado de São Paulo carried a story about allegedly irregular movements of funds in the Banco Rural accounts of several public figures including former President Fernando Collor de Mello and Anthony Garotinho, the candidate of the right-wing PMDB party in next October’s presidential election.
The article also mentioned Puccinelli, who is the PMDB’s candidate for governor in Matto Grosso do Sul. It said funds were transferred into his account in November 2004, a month after he stood down as mayor of Campo Grande. He has been the target of a federal investigation since then.
O Correio do Estado ran a story based on O Estado de São Paulo’s report the next day, after trying to get comments from those involved. Puccinelli’s lawyers, who include his son, tried in vain to have the issue seized and to have its premises searched.
Puccinelli then petitioned a Campo Grande civil court to impose a preemptive fine on the newspaper of 33,600 euros for each future issue that mentioned his name. Judge José Ale Nahmad Netto agreed, but amended the fine to 168 euros per copy which, on the basis of its print run, would total 2.6 million euros for each offending issue. Puccinelli failed, however, to get the court to seize the previous issues.
The judge said he based his decision on the requirements of objective reporting, impartiality and the verification of sources (although the federal constitution guarantees the confidentiality of journalists’ sources).