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ARTICLE 19 welcomes court's decision to drop fines against magazine and newspaper, asks electoral courts to review sanctions imposed on other press outlets

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 10 July 2008 ARTICLE 19 press release:

Brazil: Electoral Court Overthrows Fines Applied to the Press for Interviewing Prospective Candidate

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the decision by the Regional Electoral Court in São Paulo to overthrow the sanctions against newspaper Folha de S. Paulo and Veja magazine. A judge had fined the newspaper and the magazine for publishing an interview with Marta Suplicy, a candidate for the October 2008 mayor elections in Sao Paulo, on the grounds that the interview "anticipated electoral propaganda". Marta Suplicy had also been fined. ARTICLE 19 asks electoral courts to urgently review sanctions imposed on other press outlets in similar circumstances.

"The Regional Electoral Court recognized that the press plays a vital role in informing the public about elections, making sure that citizens understand the position and proposals of candidates and parties. Imposing sanctions for the publication of interviews with prospective candidates is an unjustified restriction to freedom of expression and information," said Dr. Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

During the past months, electoral judges have punished various press outlets for publishing interviews with prospective candidates in the October 2008 municipal elections. The decisions are based on Brazilian electoral legislation, which forbids any 'electoral propaganda' before 6 July 2008, when the campaign period officially starts; as well as a resolution by the Superior Electoral Court, according to which "prospective candidates can participate in interviews, debates and meetings before 6 July 2008, as long as they do not express any campaign proposals."

The interview with Marta Suplicy was published before the official starting date of the campaign. A lower court judge fined the newspaper, the magazine and the politician, considering that the interview "anticipated electoral propaganda". In another case followed by ARTICLE 19, local newspaper Agosto, from Ribeirão Bonito, in the interior of São Paulo, was fined for publishing an interview with a prospective mayor candidate. ARTICLE 19 and several other civil society organizations stated that the decisions violate freedom of expression, guaranteed under the Brazilian Constitution and international law.

After a series of criticisms, on 1 July 2008 the Superior Electoral Court changed the rule that prohibited the publication of interviews exposing campaign proposals before 6 July 2008. According to a new resolution by the Superior Electoral Court, "prospective candidates and candidates can participate in interviews, debates and meetings before 6 July 2008, including by exposing proposals and political projects".

In analyzing the interview with Marta Suplicy, the Regional Electoral Court in São Paulo decided on 8 July 2008 that the arguments used to fine the media outlets and the candidate have lost meaning due to the new rules. In the case of newspaper Agosto, however, the circulation of the apprehended edition is still suspended. The case will still be judged by the Regional Electoral Court.

ARTICLE 19 commends the Regional Electoral Court in São Paulo for its decision to overthrow the fines, and the Superior Electoral Court for changing the resolution that prohibited the publication of interviews with prospective candidates. ARTICLE 19 also asks electoral courts to overthrow sanctions imposed on other press outlets in similar circumstances. A large and responsible press coverage is central to the conduct of free and fair elections, since it guarantees the public's access to relevant information when making decisions on the electoral vote.

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.

Updates the "Veja" and "Folha de São Paulo" case arising from the publication of the Suplicy interview: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95340

For further information on the "Agosto" case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/94818

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