So long, farewell, dictatorial media law

The repeal of a military era Press Law by the Brazilian Supreme Federal Tribunal was praised by most in the media industry.

Instituted in 1967, a year before the military government started violently censoring the press and torturing journalists who denounced the regime, the Law was clealy a legacy of those times. Among other things, it established that defamation was punishable by six months to three years in prison.

That’s why seven out of ten Ministers in the Tribunal agreed that it conflicted with the Constitutional right to freedom of press. “Press freedom can not be ruled by a law that was made to restrict it”, said Minister Menezes Direito.
From now on, press abuses will be ruled by the Civil and Penal Codes.
However, even though the repeal of such law – as a symbol of the repressive regime – was more than necessary, throwing it away altogether has left a vacuum in relation to the right to response. Even though that right is granted by the Constitution, there are no specifications as to how the offended person and the publishers should proceed. More than this, there is no penalty for outlets that publish defamatory stories.

That’s even more worrying in a country in which the media tends to be politically biased, that is, more interested in praising or criticizing the government of the day according to its own economical interests than in informing the public for the greater good.

The fact that six groups control no less than 668 TV channels, radio stations and newspapers in Brazil has definitely got a lot to do with it.

Media concentration is so high in Brazil that in December 2007, a BBC World Service survey found that Brazilians are more concerned about media concentration than citizens of any other country. From a sample of 1,500 respondents, eight out of ten are worried that private monopolisation of the media will lead to political bias.

It’s not rare to see articles in weekly magazines with unfounded accusations made by unnamed sources; their victims range from government officials to left-wing priests and the landless movement. Without any law on the matter – a draft law has been in the Congress for some years – the problem might just get worse.

That’s why the biggest national website about media, Observatório da Imprensa, has decided to open a section to publicize cases in which the right to respond has been violated. I’d say that’s where anyone who wants to check the other side of big stories in Brazil should start from now on.