As Brazilian elections near, free expression debate continues to polarize

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  • October 1, 2010

By Joseph Vavrus

The intensification of campaigns as we near Brazil's election day - Sunday, Oct. 3 - has provoked journalists and activist groups to release competing manifestos on freedom of expression and the behavior of the media, Carta Capital magazine reports.

Presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva faced harsh criticism from the media after accusing the industry of favoring the opposition presidential candidate. Bruno Garcez, at the International Center for Journalists, notes that after the remarks, the sides of the debate became increasingly polarized and politicized.

Many papers have come out against the president's statements in opinion pieces, front page images, and stories critical of the remarks. Folha de S. Paulo put an editorial on its front page with the headline: “All power has its limit,” saying it is critical of corruption and scandal no matter the party. Some Twitter users responded by posting "Dilma facts by Folha", mockingly mimicked the paper’s alleged bias by blaming Dilma for things like the disappearance of Atlantis and recent unrest in Ecuador.

Most recently, 64 lawyers released a “Letter to the Brazilian People,” defending the right of the president to criticize the press. “It is regrettable that they want to deny the president the right, as a citizen, to opine..about the upcoming elections. The right to expression is sacred for everyone – the press, opposition, and any citizen,” said the letter. (The entire document is available in Portuguese on the Consultor Jurídico site).

The letter was in response to the Brazilian Bar Association’s condemnation of Lula and the release of the “Manifesto in defense of democracy and press freedom,” which was launched last week at the University of São Paulo’s law school and has more than 45,000 signatures.

Garcez says both sides have shown “silly and slightly irresponsible attitudes” during the back-and-forth. Journalists and government supporters met for their “Action against media coup-ism” at the ostensibly non-partisan headquarters of the São Paulo Journalists’ Union. On the same day, opposition supporters and journalists from major publications like Globo and Veja met to discuss threats to democracy and freedom of expression at the headquarters of the Military Club, a faux pas in a country where the military initiated a coup and had a prominent role in repressing free expression.

While the press freedom debate appears to have starkly drawn lines, the affects of electoral censorship appear to take no sides. In Maíra Magro's map of electoral censorship, it is clear that both the government party (PT), the main opposition party (PSDB), and other parties large and small have been successful at censoring the press during the 2010 election campaign.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.