(PERIODISTAS/IFEX) - In a Friday 9 March 2001 letter to the High Court (Superior Tribunal de Justicia, STJ), PERIODISTAS expressed its support for the newspaper "O Debate" and urged the Third Chamber judges to review the case. If a previous sentence is not revoked, the São Paulo state publication could be forced to close, PERIODISTAS noted.
In 1995, a judge and a former prosecutor of the Santa Cruz do Rio Pardo locality in São Paulo found information published in "O Debate" offensive and as a result lodged civil complaints requesting a previously unheard-of amount in Brazil for damages.
PERIODISTAS emphasised the Brazilian weekly's readiness to provide documentation which shows that their information had been based on actual facts and was not a deliberate intent to damage the plaintiffs' image. The organisation noted that "legal precedents established by international treaties and declarations on human rights uphold principles such as that of "real malicia" (actual malice). Accordingly, the onus is on the plaintiff to prove that in committing the offence the accused had full knowledge of the falseness of the information or acted extremely negligently by failing to corroborate the facts."
PERIODISTAS' letter further notes that the imposition of a compensatory measure consisting of a sum many times over the value of the defendant's capital could result in the closure of a communications medium, and is therefore "counter to the protection of citizens' right to inform and be informed. This is particularly relevant in this matter which involves public officials, and it is in the public interest and of absolute necessity to oversee the functions of individuals whose decisions impact on citizens' lives."
Law 5.250 was passed by a military regime and contains a number of restrictions on press freedom. Nevertheless, the law established a ceiling of an amount equal to 200 minimum salaries, payable by a medium as compensation for moral damages. However, just one of the complainants against "O Debate", Judge Antônio José Magdalena, has asked for an amount equal to 1,000 of these salaries. In addition, the magistrates who examined the case found that Law 5.250 had not been incorporated into the Federal Constitution introduced in 1988.
"After analysing the extensive information on the case and the input of a number of Brazilian and foreign organisations, we understand that the opportunity to decide in favour of the protection of freedom of expression, a right essential to the development of all democratic societies, rests in the hands of your tribunal," remarked the Argentine organisation.
PERIODISTAS feels that a review of the case and the setting up of conditions and guarantees according to the principles expounded in international treaties would demonstrate the judges' commitment to democracy, as democracy cannot survive without freedom of expression.
Send appeals to authorities:
- calling for a review of the measures imposed on "O Debate", in accordance with freedom of expression principles established by international treaties
Antonio de Pádua Ribeiro
Carlos Alberto Menezes Direito
Tel: +55 61 819 8029
High Court (Superior Tribunal de Justicia, STJ)
3a Turma STJ
c/o general fax line: +55 61 319 8193 / 8194 / 8195
Please copy appeals to the source if possible.