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Press Association Accuses Brazil of Violating Press Freedom Standards

O Estado de S. Paulo front page IAPA, he Inter American Press Association condemned a court ruling prohibiting one of the most traditional Brazilian newspapers, the daily O Estado de S. Paulo from publishing information about investigations into alleged corruption and other news media from reproducing the reports anywhere in the nation. The organization classified the decision as an act of prior censorship.

The surprising ruling on July 31 was made by Judge Dácio Vieira of the Federal District Court in Brasí­lia who ordered O Estado de S. Paulo and its Estadão website to cease publication of reports on alleged wrongdoing by Fernando Sarney, son of federal senator and former Brazilian president José Sarney.

The ban extends to radio and television stations and newspapers throughout Brazil, ordering them not to reproduce, use or quote material from O Estado de S. Paulo. Infringement of the ruling carries with it a fine of 150,000 Brazilian reais (approximately US$ 80,000), a decision that the newspaper said it will appeal.

IAPA President, Enrique Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, protested against "this case of prior censorship, not because it affects the news media by restricting them from reporting about public cases of public persons, but because it breaches constitutional principles by denying the public its right to know."

Santos Calderón added, "I regret witnessing Brazil's judiciary over-protecting the rights of people involved in matters of public interest, as in this case, rather than protecting the right to freedom of expression and keeping citizens from exclusion."

Fernando Sarney, a close friend of judge Vieira, is under investigation for alleged wrongdoing involving his family company's business with state corporations.

O Estado was the first to denounce the Sarney family, basing its reports on authorized records of telephone conversations recorded in a police operation that are said to disclose links between José Sarney and illegal contracts to relatives and close friends.

The court ruling, requested by Fernando Sarney, prohibits the publication of reports concerning the Federal Police's Boi Barrica Operation into alleged corruption. The former president of Brazil is under federal investigation for tax evasion, nepotism and other alleged offenses.

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, said that prior censorship violates international press freedom standards which Brazil has adopted and guarantees in its Constitution.

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