Director of UNIC Rio (left) and the Minister of Social Communication of the Presidency of the Republic
On 6 May 2009, the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) office in Brazil and the School of Communication of the Federal University of Rio (ECO-UFRJ) organized a seminar entitled “What threatens press freedom? Who is threatened by the press?” as part of this year’s commemoration of World Press Freedom Day. During the event journalists, judges and lawyers had the opportunity to discuss issues such as judicial campaigns against news organizations, threats of censorship, and the rules of fair coverage. The audience of approximately 150 people was composed of students, faculty, journalists and lawyers.
The UNIC Rio Director welcomed the participants, remembering that press freedom is a basic human right, as stated in article XIX of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Copies of the Secretary-General's message for the day were distributed to the public.
The event was attended by the Minister of Social Communication of the Presidency of the Republic, Franklin Martins, who highlighted the importance of thinking about the issue carefully. He recognized that press freedom is a strong demand of Brazilian society, pointing out that media outlets were nourished by credibility and, therefore, they ought to respect the border between public and private. “Who defines the limits of the press is society itself, particularly because the most severe critics of journalism are the public, who will not allow themselves to be manipulated”, said Martins.
The first theme discussed was “From censorship to injunction: press freedom at risk” by Julio César Pompeu, Law Professor of the Federal University of the State of Espírito Santo. He emphasized that “the right to information belongs to the people, even if at times this assertion is appropriated by media companies.” The journalist of the daily /Folha de/ /S. Paulo/, Elvira Lobato, took part in the discussion by describing the types of censorship that still existed, and said she was responding to over 100 law suits on account of her investigative reporting about the business activities of a prominent Brazilian evangelical church.
During the second round of debates, “The Right of Reply: the challenges posed on information in Brazil”, the Regional Republic Prosecutor, André Carvalho Ramos, stressed the importance of rationally and carefully considering the limits of the press, which from now on, following a recent High Court decision, could only be questioned in the ambit of civil and/or criminal laws. He also criticized the lack of interest of the media in relation to the decision, which, in his opinion, jeopardized the understanding of the political process.
Parallel to this, the journalist and counselor of the Internet Management Committee, Gustavo Gindre, said the overload of information on the Internet was as troublesome as the lack of information. He advocated the need for regulation in communication media which should not be labeled as censorship. He also added that the major difficulty was how to regulate democratically what was produced on the Internet, considering that it was a transnational communication media. Court of Appeals Judge Siro Darlan moderated the seminar and discussed how the Judiciary Power saw the issues discussed among the two panels.