Falling short by just eight votes, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies rejected the request for fast-tracking the bill (PL) 2630/20, known as the “Brazilian Law of Freedom, Responsibility and Transparency on the Internet” and informally called the “Fake News bill.” Without this approval, the proposal will have to go through the Congressional thematic committees before being voted on in the plenary. As such, it is unlikely to take effect before the general elections in October of this year.
The defeat for fast-tracking the bill came about as a result of demands from Brazilian journalists, gathered in trade groups that represent press professionals as well as digital news outlets that are independent from large media corporations. Created as a legislative measure to contain the spread of disinformation on social media, the Fake News bill drew attention and generated controversy by stipulating that major technology platforms should pay journalistic organizations for the use of their content.
Entities such as ABI [Brazilian Press Association], Abraji [Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism], Ajor [Digital Journalism Association] and Fenaj [National Federation of Journalists], among others, signed a manifesto published by Coalizão Direitos na Rede, in which they state that the “definition of a content remuneration model threatens labor and journalistic plurality – and must therefore be left out of the text.”
“We understand that article 38 [which deals with remuneration to journalistic organizations] should be completely removed from the text. There must be a due and urgent discussion on the means of financing and strengthening journalism. We must aim to build a balanced remuneration model that supports all sectors and also addresses possible imbalances between small and medium-sized companies and projects, and the large groups operating in the country,” according to the manifesto.
The postponement of the vote was also a victory for big tech. Contrary to the regulation, companies such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter joined in a campaign against the bill, publishing full-page Facebook ads in newspapers.
As an opponent of the bill, President Jair Bolsonaro celebrated the rejection of the urgent request. “Without freedom, we don't go anywhere. I congratulate the parliamentarians [...] [Some say:] ‘Ah, it would be a way to constrain the excesses of social media.’ [But I say:] Look, those who give up a little bit of their freedom in order to have security, end up having no freedom, no security,” according to Bolsonaro.
The sponsor of the Fake News bill, deputy Orlando Silva (PCdoB-SP) said that he does not rule out a new fast-track request for a vote in the House plenary, and he considered the chance to change the text to win more votes in favor.
In an interview with the newspaper O Globo, Silva harshly criticized big techs and accused Google of “using its strength to misinform and blackmail.” The congressman said he defends the remuneration of journalistic content because companies such as Meta and Alphabet, owners of Facebook and Google, respectively, “used the economic strength they have to try to interfere with the public debate.”
The issue of remuneration is complex and goes beyond the duality between supporters and opponents of the proposal. Some entities recognize the importance of debating the matter at length, but question the way in which it was included in the bill under discussion in Congress. This is the case of the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Rele-IACHR), which made a declaration after being consulted by Brazilian congressmen.
“Given the democratic transcendence of this challenge and its great importance for the future of journalism, at the discretion of this Rapporteurship, a formal legislative proposal would be welcome, which would regulate the matter in a more extensive and detailed, adequate and complete way, with in-depth discussion mediated by the participation of journalists and the different interested parties,” the Rele-IACHR weighed-in.
Despite supporting bill 2630/20, the Latin American Observatory for Regulation, Means and Convergence (Observacom), a non-profit think tank, pointed out the requirement for remuneration of journalistic content as one of the negative aspects of the proposal, considering the text on the subject “vague, imprecise and subject to discretionary government regulation.”
“It implies a blank slate for the definition of a policy of such importance [...]. It should be removed from this bill to be debated in a process with more time for analysis and multisectoral participation, into a specific law,” Gustavo Gómez, executive director of Observacom, wrote in a note.
In defense of the bill, the organization considers it an “advance for the rights of internet users.” For Observacom, “the bill can be a relevant reference point for Latin America to move towards guaranteeing rights also on the Internet; strengthen democratic processes in the current context of content circulation, combat misinformation and harmful practices on the Internet, and find democratic forms of social and public control of actions by large companies.”
The Fake News bill has also created divided opinions among major Brazilian news outlets. In an editorial, the newspaper O Globo said the Chamber's rejection “will have a disastrous effect on this year's electoral campaign.” The newspaper O Estado de S.Paulosaid the bill needs to evolve, considering that there are still “controversial issues.” However, it sees the remuneration of journalistic content as one of the “necessary elements.”
Fact-checking agencies such as Aos Fatos and Lupa, in turn, criticized the bill. “The proposal establishes compulsory remuneration by large platforms to journalistic companies and grants immunity to congressmen who disseminate disinformation and other types of harmful content. Both elements could cause legal and financial stress to smaller news outlets,” the Aos Fatos agency stated in an editorial.
DISCLAIMER: The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, which publishes the LatAm Journalism Review, has received grants and sponsorships from Google. In the past, it has also received funds from Facebook.