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Zé Dirceu & The Right of Reply

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Source:  Zé Dirceu

You write an article about me that focuses on my hatred and ill-treatment of dogs. Rumor begins to spread of a dog-hating folk devil stalking the near-by pracinha.

Distressed, I submit a file  with a photo of myself and our four adorable mongrels, whose health can be attested to by our veterinarian. Each one of them loves me to death. It turns out, in fact, that I treat my dogs better than I do myself, but no matter: Everywhere I go, I am picketed as a dog-hater.

This is contemporary Brazil, where the right of response is written into the Constitution but is in practice only available to victims with the financial and legal resources to demand that the record be set straight … eventually, as in several years down the road

We gringos are so thoroughly accustomed to voluntary self-regulation — underwritten by a technical and ethical commitment to truthfulness and accuracy as the cornerstones of quality — that the right of reply generally goes without saying — with exceptions, such as Fox News, which has apparently brasilianized U.S. news organizations.

As a junior editor, I always liked corrections or requests to carry on the dialogue in an exchange of letters: they solved my problem of how to fill in that blank on Page 4, which is all the cruel machinery of “closing the book on time” demands.

Now, the Brazilian Zé Dirceu, a former political heavy-hitter in the Workers Party currently facing an appeal of his criminal conspiracy case to the Supreme Court, is an interested party to the issue of right of response… but that does not make him wrong.

After two years of debate, the Senate has finally approved the bill that guarantees the right of response to what is printed in the press by those who feels themselves to be offended or harmed. The bill is actually enabling legislation for a right already guaranteed by the Constitution.

Since 1988, it seems, huge chunks of the Constitution have never been enacted or regulated

The bill will now be analyzed by the lower house.

We should root for as quick a response as possible.

The bill deals with the right of response to materials that are published, broadcast, or distributed on the Internet. It provides that the offended party shall have right, free of charge and proportionate to the alleged offense, with the same prominence, publicity, periodicity and dimension.

If a newspaper, site, radio station or TV broadcaster issues a spontaneous retraction, the issue becomes moot. But the retraction has to be proportional. Even then, the offended party retains the right to sue for “moral damages,” should he find the response inadequate.

The regulation of a right to respond is a common expedient in a number of countries, such as England, Italy, Spain and Portugual.

And self-regulation? How has that worked out? In the U.S., the system works pretty well.

“This is no censorship, the press must be absolutely free. But it is absolutely necessary as well that persons who are attacked have the right on rejoinder,” said Roberto Requião (PMDB-PR), author of the bill.

Everything that Requião does not want you to know about the Sanepar Scandal

Everything that Requião does not want you to know about the Sanepar Scandal

Requião’s ongoing operatic confrontation with local media in Paraná deserves to be staged at Bayreuth. In this case, the imminent auction of state-owned Sanepar — a sanitation utility — has angered both the former Governor of the state and his nemesis, Beto Richa.

Requião has been criticized over his involvement in a number of “honor crimes” prosecutions — which would now be subject to a simple right to reply. His (mis)use of state-owned TV stations is often debated.

How it works

The right of response can be requested up to 60 days after the publication or other dissemination in question. The vehicle has seven days to come up with a response of its own, or issue a correction. If it does not, it is subject to legal action.

If the offensive nature of the material is proven, the court sets a date and a set of conditions for the response or correction, in at most 10 days. The bill gives media companies the right to appeal

The right of reply does not apply to the comments of Internet users. In that case, the publications cannot be criminally charged, but the retraction will still be expected of it.

Defamation

As an example of the authoritarian conduct of the press, Requião, in defending the bill, recalled how he had been defamed by Veja magazine. “I never obtained a right of reply in the pages of Veja. This is enormously difficult.” He said that defamation has had little impact on his political life, but that there exist case of irreparable damages to the public image of some victims.

In 2003, the Economist ran a wishful tale of media deregulation.

As for developing countries, any media laws that exist are often just for show; political influence and money count when licences are granted. World-wide, a vast chunk of the media is still owned or run by the state. A study by America’s National Bureau of Economic Research in 2001 found that, in 97 countries it examined, the state controlled on average nearly one-third of newspapers, 60% of TV stations and 72% of top radio stations. Ownership by the state: now there is a form of media ownership that should be banned.

But has it come to pass in the intervening decade? I can tell you that the menace of the state to Brazilian freddom of expression is nothing more than a “moral panic” machine.

The sector’s lobbying power seems stronger than ever, however — in the same proportion as the freedom of expression of the BOINGOs — business-organized international NGOs — adapts to new ownership, oriented to the virtual?

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For a “ten years after” on a comparable case of total war on media regulation, perhaps we can turn to ABC (Australia) and The men of TV and a media regulation stitch-up.

Or rather, no we cannot,not without crashing the pay wall. Okay, here we go.

When 32 of the nation’s best-known male TV presenters gathered for a photo shoot two weeks ago, they didn’t expect to be used as the mouthpiece for a News Limited campaign against Conroy’s media reforms. So when the group found their smiling faces pictured under the headline ‘The Men Of TV Vent Free Speech Outrage’, some members of the group moved quickly to distance themselves from the story. It was, overall, quite the stitch-up.

In the aftermath of this puff piece, as a participant described it:

Here we were on page 9 laughing and joking in one of Justin Lloyd’s great photos but the headline above screamed:

The Men Of TV Vent Free Speech Outrage

Readers could easily be forgiven for thinking we had, as the paper put it, ‘united to share their… concerns about the Government’s controversial media reforms.’

Except, well, no we hadn’t.

It really does seem sleazy and overbearing: asking your journos to comment on your PR campaign, then newsifying it by swapping out the responses for something prepared by PR.  As staff reporters were careful to say:

ABCLieFOrMe

The bill in question is actually a self-regulation initiative

There is one simple purpose to this legislation and it is not to stifle freedom of the press. Instead this bill simply creates the conditions under which the Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA) can declare that an organisation is a “news media self-regulation body”.

The definition of a self-regulator rests on one condition: the body must have a self-regulation scheme that is binding on members.

The only other function of this bill is to remove a news organisation’s exemption from some provisions of the Privacy Act 1988 if it is not a member of a self-regulatory body recognised by the media advocate.

Rhat is it; that is all this legislation is aimed to do. The self-regulation scheme proposed in the bill is no tougher than the current rules and membership requirements of the Australian Press Council.

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