The reaction of Paris-based freedom-of-press organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) to the news that daily Folha de S. Paulo and Brazil's largest weekly magazine, Veja, were convicted for "electoral propaganda" after publishing interviews with a prospective mayor candidate for the city of São Paulo: "Absurd."
The international entity said the electoral justice verdict placed an unacceptable limit on press freedom and that reform of the current electoral law was inescapable.
The electoral justice court of São Paulo on June 16 found the newspaper and the news magazine guilty of "advance electoral propaganda" after they carried interviews on June 4 with Marta Suplicy, a prospective candidate for the Workers' Party (of President Lula) for municipal elections in October in the country's main city.
Suplicy, who belongs to the ruling party PT (Workers' Party) was the mayor of São Paulo from 2001 to 2004 and just resigned her post as Brazil's Tourism Minister to run for office.
Veja and Folha were both fined 21,282 reais (US$ 13,260) each. Marta Suplicy herself was fined double that amount: 42,564 reais (US$ 26,520). 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.
In Brazil, 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 stated.
"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 organization concluded.
The convictions against Folha de S. Paulo and Veja have been strongly criticized 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 added, "It is obvious that an interview is not electoral propaganda but the practice of journalism".