New York, January 31, 2013--Appellate courts in Brazil should overturn a decision ordering journalist Lúcio Flavio Pinto to pay more than $200,000 in damages in connection with a libel suit, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The journalist, who was initially found liable in late 2012, lost an appeal in a ruling publicized on January 23.
In the appeal, a judge in the northern state of Pará ruled that Pinto, editor and publisher of the semimonthly newspaper Jornal Pessoal, had to pay local businessman Romulo Maiorana Júnior and his company Delta Publicidade 410,000 reals (US$205,000), according to news reports. The charges stemmed from a 2005 story published in Jornal Pessoal in which Pinto alleged that Maiorana's media group, Organizações Romulo Maiorana, had used its influence to pressure companies and politicians into giving them advertising, according to news reports.
Maiorana said Pinto had damaged the Maiorana family's honor and reputation.
Pinto told CPJ that he will file two appeals tomorrow before superior courts in Brasilia, the capital. One appeal to the Superior Tribunal of Justice will argue that he was not allowed to present relevant evidence in his case, while the other one, to the Supreme Federal Tribunal, will claim that his constitutional right to freedom of expression was violated, Pinto said.
Pinto also blogs for Yahoo and has reported on drug trafficking, environmental devastation, and political and corporate corruption in the region for more than 45 years. He has been physically assaulted, threatened, and targeted with dozens of criminal and civil defamation lawsuits as a result of his investigative work, CPJ research shows. In 2005, CPJ honored Pinto with its International Press Freedom Award, an annual recognition of courageous reporting.
Pinto is still facing four civil defamation suits filed by members of Maiorana's family, all related to his critical reporting. Prior criminal defamation suits against Pinto were suspended after the 2009 decision by the Supreme Federal Tribunal to strike down the infamous 1967 Press Law, which had imposed harsh penalties for libel and slander.
"This decision is part of a systematic pattern of legal harassment against Lúcio Flavio Pinto, who has faced dozens of prosecutions from powerful plaintiffs in an attempt to silence his critical reporting," said CPJ Senior Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. "We call on the federal tribunals to overturn the sentence so Pinto can continue his work without fear of legal harassment."
- For more data and analysis on Brazil, visit CPJ's Brazil page here.