Brazilian judge dismisses case against U.S. journalist for stories on air crash

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  • November 11, 2010

By Maira Magro

In what is being called a victory for free speech, a Brazilian judge has dismissed defamation and libel charges against U.S. journalist Joe Sharkey, who survived a collision over the Amazon in September 2006 that killed 154 people. Sharkey blamed failures in Brazil's air control system for the collision between the private jet in which he was flying and a commercial airliner. He reported the decision on his blog.

Sharkey was aboard the private jet whose pilot made an emergency landing and saved its seven occupants. He wrote a first-person account for The New York Times and later insisted in newspapers, blogs, and interviews on U.S. radio and TV that the Brazilian air control system was to blame. His comments sparked angry reactions in Brazil, along with two lawsuits against him.

The plaintiff was the widow of a passenger who died in the accident. She accused Sharkey of launching a campaign on his blog in favor of the pilots of the private jets. She said she felt insulted by Sharkey's strong criticism of Brazilian authorities, even though the journalist argued that he never mentioned her name in articles and interviews. He also insisted that he was falsely accused of making criticisms of Brazil that he never made.

The case is unique because it deals with a defamation charges involving more than one country. Sharkey was sued in Brazil for statements made in the United States and reported throughout the world on Internet.

For more details, see Sharkey's post and the Portuguese version of this post.

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.