“It was them”: Lynch mob journalism, Brazilian style. Veja issues a peremptory verdict in case of the parents of a young girl killed in a fall from a São Paulo high-rise condo, reportedly with signs of previous physical violence — a “moral panic” case that has taken up at least half the ink and airtime in Brazil for weeks now.The police investigation has not yet concluded. And Veja does have a poor track record when it comes to prognosticating guilt and innocence. See, for example, Veja Só: Editorial Integrity at Brazil’s Grupo Abril.
I am departing from my usual habit of providing an interlinear translation — the original text, followed by its translation — because, well, because doing that is a time-consuming pain in the ass.
I used OmegaT to translate the text much more quickly and efficiently. I have done my best to translate accurately.
One of the greatest sources of culture shock here in Brazil is the debate over the 1967 Press Law, a dictatorship-era measure that among other things (1) makes slander, defamation and “vituperation” criminal, not civil, offenses; (2) requires journalists to be registered with and licensed by the state, and (3) in an article making the right of reply obligatory, provides a weird exception to the requirement in the event the reply to which the offended has a right is deemed offensive to the publication he or she feels offended by.
Civil remedies, with swift resolutions and appropriate damages awarded by a competent court of law, are the proper way to people to stop lying about and slandering you.
Reasonable people will naturally tend to stop paying good money for news organizations that regularly lie to them, if that fact is pointed out to them.
Journalists can be trusted to abide by the canons of professional ethics. Journalists who fail to do so join the ranks of the unemployed along with Stephen Glass, Judy Miller, “Jeff Gannon” and Jayson Blair.
Not all of this applies so readily to the case of Brazil, however, where media ownership is more concentrated than frozen Florida orange juice inside a black hole in space, the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow, damages awarded are not sufficient economic deterrents to the kind of conduct in question, jabaculê rules the day, and art of the media-driven gabbling ratfink is something of a national blood sport.
Which partly explains why Bernardo Kucinski, a veteran of the dictatorship-era leftist “alternative press” — I have been reading his history of that movement lately — disagrees with my libertarian instinct. His argument is a familiar one: That the old litany about the sacred “freedom of expression” opens the way for jaw-dropping abuses of said “freedom.” As he writes:
One of the specous arguments against the Press Law is that Brazil is the nation with the most lawsuits against journalists. This is the case because Brazil is the country whose journalists engage in the most slander and defamation.
There may be some truth to that, although I do not know of any comparative studies on the subject. I can certainly think of plenty of anecdotal evidence to back the contention, though. Another factor: Brazil is an insanely litigious place in general.
At any rate, I wanted to clip the argument to file. This is a fascinating debate because it is so foreign to the New York Times v. Sullivan standard one is familiar with back in the good old USSA.
The Sudden Death of the Press Law
By Bernardo Kucinski, Observatório da Imprensa, April 26, 2008; reproduced from Revista do Brasil No. 23, April 24, 2008
Brazil no longer has a Press Law. The Supreme Court, without waiting for Congress, struck down 20 of its 27 articles, among them the three most important ones -– 20, 21 and 23, which punish crimes of slander, defamation and injurious vituperation. This was the principal victory of a powerful campaign by media owners against the Press Law, supported by some compliant journalists and even by organizations that defend freedom of the press.