Brazilian journalist Lúcio Flávio Pinto, a journalist who has received several prizes in Brazil and abroad for his work in defense of the Amazon, was ordered by the Justice to pay approximately US$ 15,000 for defaming Rômulo Maiorana, a deceased businessman, The ruling came courtesy of the Superior Court of the State of Pará, in the north of Brazil.
In the case, Rômulo Maiorana Jr. and Ronaldo Maiorana accused Pinto of offending the honor and reputation of their father, a businessman who built the main media group in the region, Grupo Liberal for an article published in Jornal Pessoal, which Pinto runs, in 2005 which claimed that Rômulo Maiorana was involved in smuggling activities in the 1950s and 1970s.
Pinto argued before the court that he was not the first to make these allegations, and presented copies of documents he believes prove that his allegations are general knowledge and also accurate. According to Pinto, such activities were commonplace in the isolated state of Pará at that time.
According to Pinto's calculations, the damage award, which together with legal fees may amount to US$ 20,000, is equivalent to more than a year of the newspaper's gross income. Such payment would probably force him to close his newspaper.
The Court also ordered Jornal Pessoal – a one-man publication – to publish a note drafted by the Maiorana brothers in full, and forbade Jornal Pessoal from again publishing any statement that could be considered aggressive, defamatory, calumnious or slanderous in relation to Rômulo Maiorana and his two sons, or face a further US$ 15,000 penalty.
Pinto, who has 42 years of experience in reporting on environmental devastation and corruption in the Amazon, has in the past been the victim of death threats, physical attacks and dozens of civil and criminal defamation lawsuits. He currently faces 14 other lawsuits filed by the Maiorana brothers.
The international press organization Article 19 says that it is concerned about this decision, which involves allegations of high public interest. The decision fails to elaborate on the basis for finding Pinto's allegations to be false and does not address the documents presented by Pinto in his defense.
The organization argues that in cases involving matters of public interest, the plaintiff should be required to prove the falsity of their allegations.
Research indicates, Article 19 adds, that the civil defamation provisions is open to abuse and that they have previously expressed concern about the lack of clear standards for civil defamation in Brazil, including as to the size of damage awards.
The international body calls on the Brazilian authorities to amend the rules on civil defamation so that they are clear and respect international standards, including as to the burden of proof in cases involving matters of public interest. We also call on the authorities to decriminalize defamation and related crimes.