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Electoral judge orders website to remove report on Worker's Party candidate

(ABRAJI/IFEX) - Luiz Marinho, a former minister in Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's government and a Worker's Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) candidate for re-election in the city of São Bernardo do Campo (São Paulo), has obtained a judicial injunction ordering the Folha Online website to remove a report from its digital archive. The report was published in 2005 and its contents were not contested at the time of publication. However, now, during the electoral period, the "São Bernardo de Todos" (São Bernardo for All) Coalition requested that the report be removed from the website alleging that the "opponents were using the contents to politically harm [Marinho]".

On 10 October 2008, Grupo Folha (Folha Group) lawyers presented a request for withdrawal of the injunction. They argued that the injunction represents a form of press censorship. "You cannot confuse news with irregular electoral propaganda promoted by others," said lawyer Maurício de Carvalho Araujo in a report published by "Folha de S. Paulo" newspaper on 11 October. The defense also emphasised that "the news published by the Folha Online website consists of historical records of facts of public interest, which cannot be erased ( . . . ) from the site's journalistic history."

The report in question, which was published on 20 October 2005, contained allegations of a visit the former minister purportedly made to a nightclub in Germany, paid by Volkswagen. Marinho and the company denied the story, which was told by a former Volkswagen manager, Klaus Joachim Gebauer, in an interview with the German "Die Welt" newspaper.

When consulted by telephone, Marinho refused to comment on the injunction against Grupo Folha. The lawyer for the "São Bernardo de Todos" Coalition, Márcio Moreira, said that the "judicial action is not personal", but came from the entire coalition, formed by 11 parties. The coalition's lawyer claimed that "[those who] create the website must be responsible for its contents". He added that, "the report is being used to denigrate the image of the candidate, prejudicing electoral freedom and the right of citizens to form their opinion on current and real facts." When questioned about the possibility of a conflict of interests between press freedom and electoral freedom, the lawyer answered that "the judge decided which of them deserves judicial watch in this specific case."

The Brazilian National Association of Newspapers (Associação Nacional de Jornais, ANJ) condemned the decision and noted that "the electoral justice system should punish those who are making use of defamatory reports, but should not censor the report. Censorship is unconstitutional."

According to the text of the injunction issued by electoral judge Wagner Gídaro, it is "forbidden for any political propaganda to take advantage of facts that can slander, defame or insult the candidate." On 13 October, Orlando Molina, Grupo Folha's legal department director refuted the argument against the report, saying, "It is news. It's not political propaganda." Molina said he believes in the agility of the electoral justice system and hopes that there will be a favourable response to the request for withdrawal of the injunction.

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