Higher Court Overturns Fine for Political Interview in Brazil

Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo Brazil's Superior Electoral Tribunal's ruled on July 2 that a São Paulo electoral court violated the constitution on June 16 when it fined the Folha de S. Paulo daily and the weekly news magazine Veja 21,000 Brazilian reais (US$ 13,100) for "premature electoral propaganda."

The two publications were punished for carrying interviews with Marta Suplicy, a prospective candidate for mayor of São Paulo in next October's municipal elections. She was also fined. The prosecutor's office of the São Paulo regional electoral court had already requested the quashing of the sanctions.

However, in a separate development on July 1st, the Rio de Janeiro regional electoral court fined O Debate daily newspaper and Rádio 95 FM, a station based in Macaé (Rio de Janeiro state), 20,000 reais for interviewing federal parliamentarian Sí­lvio Lopes Teixeira.

The international press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders said that it welcomes the higher court decision. The entity had earlier called "absurd" a conviction for "electoral propaganda" against Folha and Veja. For Reporters, the verdict placed an unacceptable limit on press freedom and urged an urgent reform of the current electoral law.

The electoral justice court of Sao Paulo found the daily and the magazine guilty of "advance electoral propaganda" after they carried interviews on June 4 with Suplicy, a prospective candidate for the ruling Workers' Party (PT, of President Lula) for mayoral elections in October, in the country's largest city.

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 convictions against Folha 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, had 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".

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