Journalists convicted of criminal defamation in Brazil

New York, May 13, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the conviction of two Brazilian journalists on charges of criminal defamation and calls on authorities to reverse the decisions on appeal. 

“The criminal convictions of Ricardo Boechat and Aguirre Talento underscore what regional courts and legislatures have been saying for more than a decade: Defamation should be a civil offense, and journalists should not have to fear going to jail for their reporting,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Brazil has, for the most part, abandoned criminal defamation in recent years. The courts should continue in that vein and overturn these convictions.”

On Thursday, a judge in São Paulo convicted Ricardo Boechat, host of the news program “Jornal da Band” on the TV network Bandeirantes, on charges of defaming a local senator, according to news reports. Boechat was sentenced to six months and 16 days, which was suspended in favor of community service, news reports said. Bandeirantes said it would appeal the sentence.  

The charges stemmed from comments Boechat made on a radio show he hosted in 2011 about an interview between Sen. Roberto Requião and another journalist who asked the senator about a lifelong pension he allegedly received for his former position as governor. The senator was angered and attempted to delete the interview. Later, Boechat on his show accused Requião of corruption and nepotism, which the senator denied. Requião subsequently filed a suit against Boechat, accusing him of defamation and damaging his reputation.

In a separate case, a judge in Salvador do Bahia on April 28 sentenced Aguirre Talento, a journalist for the newspaper A Tarde, to a six-month jail term on defamation charges, according to news reports. The sentence was suspended in favor of community service and a fine, the reports said.

The conviction was in connection with an article Talento wrote in A Tarde in 2010 that alluded to authorities’ investigation into a businessman accused of noncompliance with environmental rules on a construction project, according to news reports. The businessman, Humberto Riella Sobrinho, said Talento had defamed him and damaged his honor by writing that the prosecutor had asked that he be placed in preventive detention. Sobrinho said that was not true.

Talento’s defense said in court that the article had only suggested the possibility of imprisonment and that there was no evidence of intentional malice on the part of the journalist, according to news reports. But the judge ruled that the journalist had acted “with the clear intention to tarnish the objective honor [of the businessman],” according to local press freedom group the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI).  Talento is appealing the sentence.

CPJ published a special report on press freedom in Brazil on May 6 that highlighted the way politicians and powerful businessman have taken advantage of defamation and privacy laws to stifle critical reporting. In a meeting on Wednesday with CPJ, Supreme Federal Tribunal Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa said that “decisions by judges in lower courts are sometimes irresponsible.” He said he would urge the National Council of Justice, the disciplinary body of the judicial branch, to avoid issuing rulings that would send a chilling message to the press. Barbosa is also the president of the National Council of Justice.