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Daily and magazine convicted for "electoral propaganda" after interviewing prospective São Paulo mayoral candidate

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders considers as "absurd" a conviction for "electoral propaganda" against the daily "A Folha de São Paulo" and the magazine "Veja" after they published interviews with a prospective candidate for municipal elections in São Paulo in the south-east of the country.

The worldwide press freedom organisation said the verdict placed an unacceptable limit on press freedom and that reform of the current electoral law was inescapable.

The electoral justice court of Sao Paulo on 16 June 2008 found the daily and the magazine guilty of "advance electoral propaganda" after they carried interviews on 4 June with Marta Suplicy, a prospective candidate for the Workers' Party (of President Lula) for municipal elections in October in the country's largest city.

They were both fined 21,282 reals (approx. 8,500 euros). Marta Suplicy herself was fined 42,564 reals (approx. 17,000 euros). They have appealed to the state's regional electoral court, which is expected to confirm or quash the conviction within the next few days.

The legislative framework for municipal election campaigns imposes very strict limits on candidates speaking to the media, including "prospective" candidates, whose candidature has not been confirmed. The Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism (Abraji) has recorded at least nine such cases throughout the country in the run-up to the October elections.

"The absurdity of this legal decision, which we hope will be quickly overturned, has already been condemned both at government level and by the higher legal authorities", Reporters Without Borders said.

"Aside from the fact that the press has a duty to report political news in the run-up to polling and that journalistic work should not be confused with propaganda, the concept of a 'prospective' candidate does not make any sense. Any political figure in a democratic country will seek a nomination or votes. A balance of airtime on broadcast media is essential during an official campaign. Making such checks would seem to be much more difficult to apply to the written press and generally speaking there is no reason to do so outside election campaigns. The law should therefore be amended," the organisation concluded.

The convictions against "A Folha de São Paulo" and "Veja" have been strongly criticised by both judges and politicians. Carlos Ayres Britto, President of the higher electoral court, the country's highest electoral jurisdiction, said that the courts should "take very great care not to obstruct the fundamental right to freedom of information". Social communications minister Franklin Martins said, "It is obvious that an interview is not electoral propaganda but the practice of journalism".

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