The case of Lúcio Flávio Pinto: a portrait of judicial censorship in Brazil

By Isabela Fraga

Lúcio Flávio Pinto, founder and lone reporter for the blog Jornal Pessoal, has won eight prizes, published 22 books and been sued 33 times for his work as a journalist. Pinto's experience is emblematic of judicial censorship in Brazil, which increasingly harasses press workers and has mobilized journalists in the country and around the world to call attention to it.

Since 1987, Pinot has published his independent newsletter in the city of Belém every two weeks and reported on the influential figures of the Brazilian Amazon. But the work that won him so many accolades, including two Esso prizes, an award from the Committee to Project Journalists and a profile in the Los Angeles Times, also brought on a lawsuit for moral damages in 2005 that continues in the courts today.

Recently, a judge sentenced the reporter to pay over $200,000 to the plaintiffs, Romulo Maiorana Júnior and the Delta Publicidade S/A company, owned by the Maiorana family. The lawsuit was based on a report Pinto published titled, "O rei da quitanda," the king of the small shop, following the business dealings of Organizações Romulo Maiorana, the largest owner of media companies in northern Brazil, and accusing its owner, Romulo Maiorana, of using the companies to pressure advertisers.

After publishing a 1999 report alleging land grabbing and fraud in the Amazon by Cecílio do Rego Almeida, Pinto faced a lawsuit for calling Almeida a "land pirate." Pinto appealed a court order to pay $4,000 in damages but it was denied. Later, federal police confirmed the land grab but the sentence had already been levied.

When Pinto's appeal was denied, colleagues in print and online showed their support by re-posting the manifesto published on Ricardo Kotscho's blog, "Threatened journalist: we are all Lúcio Flávio." The movement grew into We Are All Lúcio Flávio, a civil society organization dedicated to promoting solidarity with the embattled journalist, according to the group's website. The organization's website has two petitions people can sign that will be sent to the National Judicial Council and the public prosecutor, as well as donate to financially support the journalist, who faces all 33 lawsuits without the resources to pay for the damages.

Click here to read a statement describing the journalist's legal woes (in Portuguese).

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.