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Courts impose "preventive censorship" on various media; magazine copies seized, newspaper fined

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced concern about a wave of court orders imposing "preventive censorship" on news media. In most cases, the orders are issued by local courts and are often quashed on appeal. Nonetheless, they feed a climate of intimidation and encourage self-censorship.

"Legal measures against news media that defame, insult or violate the right to privacy are not in themselves open to criticism, but when courts use this as grounds for censoring a programme or banning a media outlet from mentioning someone by name, the result is a climate that does not favour free expression," the press freedom organisation said.

"An elected official has the right to complain when his private life is publicly exposed without his agreement, but when he obtains a court ban on any mention of his name, he is depriving the press of its right to refer to him as a public figure," Reporters Without Borders continued. "Preventive censorship is an abuse of authority and we hope the many cases, including those mentioned here, will be overturned on appeal."

In the most recent case, the mayor of the northeastern city of Salvador de Bahia, João Henrique, on 21 June 2007 got a court to ban the Metrópole media network (which includes a radio station, magazine, website and blog) from mentioning his name. If the group violates the ban, it will be fined the equivalent of 77,000 euros. The court also seized 30,000 copies of the group's free magazine, which had a cartoon of the mayor on the cover.

The case has a political background. Metrópole chairman Mário Kertész was himself Salvador's mayor twice in the past (1979-1981 and 1986-1989), and he has never hesitated to use his media to settle personal scores with his successor, whom he calls the "unspeakable one" in his blog.

In another case, on 15 June, a court in the southeastern state of São Paulo banned "Folha de Vinhedo", a weekly based in the city of Vinhedo, from publishing an interview in which Paulo Cabral, the Vinhedo municipal government's former legal secretary, accused various local officials and businessmen of corruption. The ban was requested by two businessmen named in the interview, Rogério Sanches Cunha and Osias Daudt, and a local judge, Herivelto Araújo Godoy, whose lawyer said Cabral was "under the influence of alcohol" when he gave the interview.

Ruling that the interview would "sully the credibility of the Vinhedo judicial authorities and prosecutor's office", judge Ana Lúcia Xavier Goldman ordered "preventive censorship" of the newspaper on 1 and 15 June. She also set a pre-emptive fine of about 200 euros for each copy of the newspaper published in violation of the ban.

In still another incident, on 4 March, São Paulo state judge Maria Isabel Caponero Cogan issued an order preventing the privately-owned TV Record from broadcasting an investigative report implicating Itaquaquecetuba Mayor Armando Tavares Filho in alleged corruption and illegal enrichment.

Finally, on 9 February, a court in the southern state of Santa Catarina banned the "Gazeta de Joinville" daily from mentioning the names of Joinville Mayor Marco Tebaldi, his wife, and Taiza Thomsen, a former Miss Brazil, after the paper referred to an alleged affair between the mayor and the former beauty queen. The "preventive censorship" order was accompanied by a pre-emptive fine of 774 euros for each day the paper violated the ban.

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