Reporters Without Borders today condemned measures taken by courts in Brasilia and the southeastern state of Minas Gerais aimed at gagging the press just a few weeks before the 1 October general elections.
“It does not take a degree in rocket science to know what Brasilia’s regional electoral court seems to have realised, that press revelations about candidates can have a major impact on elections,” the press freedom organisation said. “But this is not a matter for the courts, unless they accept that they take orders from politicians. It is up to the public to form their opinions on the basis of the information they have a right to receive.”
Judge Roberval Casemiro Belinati of the Brasilia federal district electoral tribunal issued an order on 27 August banning all news media in his region from reporting the content or even referring to the existence of a conversation between two politicians that was recorded, transcribed and posted on a website.
The judge did this at the request of one of the two politicians involved, former Brasilia federal district governor Joaquim Roriz. In the recorded conversation between him and his lawyer, Eri Varela, a federal parliamentary candidate, Roriz was extremely critical of parliamentary representative José Roberto Arruda, the front-runner in the current race for the Brasilia governorship.
On the morning of 27 August, journalist Ricardo Noblat posted the transcript of the conversation on his blog on the website of the O Estado de São Paulo (“O Estadão”) newspaper. A judicial official went to O Estadão’s office in Brasilia with a publication ban on the evening of the same day, but by then Arruda had already announced his intention to sue Roriz. Judge Belinati’s position was that the publication of the conversation could affect the electoral prospects of the politicians involved.
On 30 August, federal police burst into the offices of the weekly Hoje in Belo Horizonte (the capital of Minas Gerais state) and seized computers and other office equipment. Hoje editor Joseti Alves said his newspaper had been charged with “an electoral crime” for revealing alleged irregularities by federal parliamentary representative Carlos Melles, who used to be tourism minister.
Undistributed copies of the 9 February issue of the magazine Revista do Observatório Social were seized in Ouro Preto (also in Minas Gerais state) during the second half of August. The issue contained a report entitled “The Stone Age” about children who work in a Minas Gerais talc mine. The copies were seized as a result of a 30 June court ruling that the magazine broke a law banning the publication of photos of minors without permission. The same law also bans child labour.