Judicial censorship of media said to favor corruption

The Inter American Press Association has voiced concern at a court order in Brazil prohibiting the news media conglomerate Grupo RBS from publishing reports concerning cases of alleged corruption by a Rio Grande do Sul state legislator.

In August last year Grupo RBS and the program “Fantástico” broadcast by TV Globo carried a series of reports by journalist Giovani Grizzotti which said that lawmakers in the southern Brazilian state were using allowances to take vacation trips rather than for training courses as they were supposed to be. Following the disclosure the public prosecutor’s office charged 13 of the legislators with misuse of public funds.

Gonzalo Marroquín, president of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Siglo 21 and president of the hemispheric journalism organization, called the court ban a case of prior censorship and regretted that in Brazil “judges always opt for defending corrupt officials instead of safeguarding press freedom and the transparency that there should be in every government action so as to strengthen democracy.”

In the event that any of the media outlets in Grupo RBS, such as its flagship newspaper Zero Hora, fails to heed the court order it will have to pay a fine of 1,000 reals – equivalent to $625 – a day.

The legislator initially involved had sued Grupo RBS for libel. Two of the companies that were said to have offered the supposed training courses also filed suit against it, but without success.

For several years the Inter American Press Association has been noting a trend among numerous judges in Brazil to protect corrupt officials by censoring news media. The most notable case of such action has been in effect since July 13, 2009, when a court banned the São Paulo newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo from publishing reports about corruption in which one of those said to be involved was businessman Fernando Sarney, son of former Brazilian president and current senator José Sarney.

Then in September 2010 a judge prohibited 84 news media in Tocantins and other states from publishing information about an alleged scandal involving the governor, a candidate seeking re-election and the state attorney general.

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