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Brazzil - Politics - May 2004
 

Brazil: Lula Won't Back Down

Brazilian President spokesman, Andre Singer, made it clear that
the government's action against the NY Times correspondent in
Brazil did not mean the government is against freedom of the
press. According to Singer, it was the refusal of the paper to
make a retraction that caused the government to do what it did.

Paula Medeiros


Brazzil

Picture Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is reported to be adamant: he will not back down from the decision to revoke the temporary visa of New York Times reporter, Larry Rohter (which means the journalist will have to leave the country). Appeals by leaders of the Congress were not enough to make Lula change his mind.

According to presidential spokesman, Andre Singer, in spite of the negative reaction, the decision stands. "The Brazilian government is not going to reverse its position on this matter. We have solid, strong, well-thought-out reasons. It is our responsibility to defend Brazil," declared Singer.

Rohter was the author of an article that appeared in the May 9 New York Times claiming that Lula's drinking had become a reason for national concern in Brazil.

Singer made it clear that the government's action against Rohter did not mean the government was moving against freedom of the press in general. "We have an ironclad commitment to freedom of the press," declared the presidential spokesman, adding that it was the refusal of the NY Times to make a retraction that caused the government to do what it did.

"The government has to respond in kind. If the New York Times had done something, it is possible the government would not have taken the action it did," said Singer.

In other comments on the case, Singer explained that there were absolutely no restrictions on the New York Times. "As a matter of fact, they can send a replacement for Rohter whenever they want to," he said.

In conclusion, Singer said that the article had an enormous negative impact on the Brazilian government and that the decision to expel Rohter was not a spur of the moment decision. "The article was offensive to the president and Brazil. It was not based on facts. It was gratuitous," he said.

Protest

The Association of Foreign Press Correspondents issued a note with regard to the article written by American reporter Larry Rohter and published on Sunday (9) in The New York Times, concerning President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's reputed excess consumption of alcoholic beverages. Cancellation of the reporter's visa, the note says, "violates the freedom of the press."

The full text of the note is the following:

"Notwithstanding the content of the article by New York Times reporter Larry Rohter, the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents considers the cancellation of his visa, or rather, his expulsion from Brazil, a very grave act that violates the freedom of the press and recalls the darkest periods of the country's history.

"We greatly lament this decision, which does not conform to the principles of a free and democratic society. We fear that this drastic attitude constitutes a warning to foreign correspondents that, in order to work in Brazil, they should write articles that please the Government."


Paula Medeiros works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Allen Bennett


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