Reporters Without Borders hails yesterday’s decision by the Regional Electoral Court (TRE) in São Paulo to finally rule in favour of the A Folha de São Paulo daily and the magazine Veja, rescinding the heavy fines imposed on them on 17 June for interviewing Marta Suplicy, a prospective candidate for mayor of Saõ Paulo, who was also fined.
The interviews were originally deemed to have violated an electoral law on “premature electoral propaganda.” Yesterday’s ruling became inevitable after the Superior Electoral Tribunal, a federal court, ruled a week ago that the fines violated the freedom of information and were therefore unconstitutional. Reporters Without Borders calls for the absurd crime of “premature electoral propaganda” to be eliminated from the electoral law.
04.07.2008 - Highest electoral court says fining media for “premature electoral propaganda” was unconstitutional
Reporters Without Borders welcomes the Superior Electoral Tribunal’s ruling on 2 July that a Saõ Paulo electoral court violated the constitution on 16 June when it fined the A Folha de São Paulo daily and the magazine Veja 21,000 reals (8,500 euros) for “premature electoral propaganda.”
The two publications were sanctioned for carrying interviews with Marta Suplicy, a prospective candidate for mayor of Saõ Paulo in next October’s municipal elections, who was also fined. The prosecutor’s office of the Saõ Paulo regional electoral court had already requested the quashing of the sanctions.
However, in a separate development on 1 July, the Rio de Janeiro regional electoral court fined the O Debate daily newspaper and Rádio 95 FM, a station based in Macaé (in Rio de Janeiro state), 20,000 reals for interviewing federal parliamentarian Sílvio Lopes Teixeira.
19.06.08 - Conviction for “electoral propaganda” condemned as “absurd”
Reporters Without Borders said today that it considered as “absurd” a conviction for “electoral propaganda” against the daily A Folha de São Paulo and the magazine Veja after they published interviews with a prospective candidate to municipal elections in São Paulo in the south-east of the country.
The worldwide press freedom organisation said the verdict placed an unacceptable limit on press freedom and that reform of the current electoral law was inescapable.
The electoral justice court of Sao Paulo on 16 June found the daily and the magazine guilty of “advance electoral propaganda” after they carried interviews on 4 June with Marta Suplicy, a prospective candidate for the Workers’ Party (of President Lula) for municipal elections in October in the country’s main city.
They were both fined 21,282 reals (about 8,500 euros). Marta Suplicy herself was fined 42,564 reals (more than 17,000 euros). They have appealed to the regional electoral court for the state, which is expected to confirm or quash the conviction within the next few days.
The legislative framework for municipal election campaigns imposes very strict limits on candidates speaking to the media, including ‘prospective’ candidates, whose candidature has not been confirmed. The Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism (Abraji) has recorded at least nine such cases throughout the country in the run-up to the October elections.
“The absurdity of this legal decision, which we hope will be quickly overturned, has already been condemned both at government level and by the higher legal authorities”, Reporters Without Borders said.
“Aside from the fact that the press has a duty to report political news in the run-up to polling and that journalistic work should not be confused with propaganda, the concept of a ‘prospective’ candidate does not make any sense. Any political figure in a democratic country will seek a nomination or votes. A balance of airtime on broadcast media is essential during an official campaign. Making such checks would seem to be much more difficult to apply to the written press and generally speaking there is no reason to outside election campaigns. The law should therefore be amended,” the organisation concluded.
The convictions against A Folha de São Paulo and Veja have been strongly criticised by both judges and politicians. Carlos Ayres Britto, President of the higher electoral court, the country’s highest electoral jurisdiction, said that the courts should “take very great care not to obstruct the fundamental right to freedom of information”. Social communications minister Franklin Martins said, “It is obvious that an interview is not electoral propaganda but the practice of journalism”.