In Brazil, a disputed court order bans coverage of spy case

New York, December 13, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the latest example of judicial censorship in Brazil, where a São Paulo court has ordered the daily Folha de S.Paulo to stop publishing reports about a criminal case.

A Federal District Court judge ordered the São Paulo-based newspaper to stop publishing reports about a pending court case involving alleged corporate espionage, Folha de S.Paulo reported. The newspaper received the written order on December 9. The order was signed by Judge Margarete Sacristan, who told the newspaper that she had issued it on behalf of the presiding judge, Silvio Luis Ferreira da Rocha.

The order instructed the newspaper to “immediately cease any form of dissemination of information relevant to the facts and people involved in the proceedings in question, via newspaper, television, or radio news reports or via any other means of dissemination, including the Web site maintained by this company.” The order was issued at the request of some of the plaintiffs in the case, the paper reported.

Folha de S.Paulo said it would comply with the order and remove 165 pages of news reports on the case from its Web site, but it would also appeal the decision. In an editorial yesterday, Folha de S.Paulo called the order “an unmistakable act of censorship against the press.”

Since 2004, Folha de S.Paulo has covered a corporate battle for control of Brasil Telecom, a local telecommunications company. In July 2004, the paper reported that the investment firm Opportunity, which controlled Brasil Telecom, had hired a U.S. security company to spy on Telecom Italia, a competitor. At the time, Opportunity and Telecom Italia were fighting in court for control of Brasil Telecom.

Folha de S.Paulo also reported that the U.S. security firm, Kroll Inc., had investigated government officials believed to have influence over the business dispute. Federal police launched an investigation into the allegations and in April 2005 filed corruption charges against 15 businessmen.

The defendants deny the spying allegations.

“Brazilians have a right to know the details and the veracity of these serious allegations involving major corporate and government matters,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Shutting tight the courtroom doors goes against the basic principles of democracy.”

Rocha, the presiding judge, sought to distance himself from the order in comments made to Folha de S.Paulo and published today. Rocha said the order, which was sent while he was on vacation, did not reflect his intention to limit certain Web content only. Rocha had not officially rescinded the order or issued any formal substitute order as of today.

CPJ has documented a pattern of judicial censorship in Brazil over several years. In the name of protecting privacy and personal honor, judges have banned media outlets on numerous occasions from covering corruption allegations involving public officials, politicians, and businessmen.