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Brazil: First blog falls victim to electoral law

Not too long ago, the Brazilian justice announced its set of voting regulations and political propaganda for the local elections 2008, which were quickly considered by some bloggers rather anachronistic for forbidding campaigning through social web tools like Twitter, Orkut, and You Tube. Also not very long ago, on a separate post two months before the aforementioned, journalist-blogger Pedro Dória expressed on his blog his wish that Fernando Gabeira would run for mayor of Rio de Janeiro, believing that the blogosphere and netizens could join forces to convince him to put his name forward, a campaign which, some say, played a fundamental role in convincing the politician to run for Mayor.

Both pieces of news were covered here, at Global Voices Online, in March and January respectively and the two of them were pieced together last week, when Pedro Dória [pt] and other bloggers had to delete the banners they had displayed on their blogs in support of the now Mayoral candidate Fernando Gabeira, following a Regional Electoral Court decision. According to the law, political propaganda for this year's elections is only allowed from July 6, and the Rio de Janeiro Regional Electoral Court (the acronym TRE-RJ in Portuguese) demanded the banners be taken off, otherwise Gabeira's candidacy would be banned. Pedro Dória broke the news and expressed his indignation in a post that has amassed no less than 210 comments:

Nenhum político paga por este banner. É uma declaração de voto pessoal de minha parte. O banner leva a um argumento pela sua candidatura. É o meu direito como cidadão de manifestar o que penso, qual o caminho que desejo para minha cidade. Ninguém deve ser punido porque exerci meu direito de cidadão em uma democracia de manifestar minha opinião.

Mas a Justiça considerou que deve impor limites ao meu direito de expressar minha opinião. É um fato grave.

O Weblog é um veículo jornalístico. Eu sou jornalista. O gesto do Tribunal é uma censura à liberdade de imprensa.

No politician pays for this banner. It is a declaration of mine of my personal vote. The banner links to an argument for his candidacy. It is my right as a citizen to express what I think, what path I want for my city. No one else should be punished because I exercised my right as citizen in a democracy to express my opinion. However the Justice ruled that it should impose limits on my rights to express my opinion. It is a really serious issue. The Weblog is a journalistic vehicle. I am a journalist. The court decision is a gesture of press freedom censorship.

Gabeira Rio 2008

Censored by the Rio de Janeiro Regional Electoral Court
“Gabeira Rio 2008″vs “Censored by the Rio de Janeiro Regional Electoral Court”

The previous banner, the first one above, stating “Gabeira Rio 2008″ had been online for months even before the politician made his mind up about running for the elections. It has been substituted by a new one that now reads “Censored by the Rio de Janeiro Regional Electoral Court”, still linking to the post back in January calling for the Green Party politician to stand for elections. In another post that attracted hundreds of comments [pt], Dória answers readers comments on the new debate about censorship that this event sparked on the Brazilian blogosphere:

Que não fiquem dúvidas: o Tribunal me censurou. Censura é isso, é dizer que não pode publicar algo em meu espaço. Uma intromissão em minha liberdade de colocar o que quiser aqui. Uma inteferência em minha independência editorial. Esta é a informação no novo banner. E este aqui, no Brasil, ainda é um regime democrático mesmo que capenga. Um Estado de leis. O tribunal decidiu que não posso publicar, não publico. Mas digo que fui censurado.

Let there be no doubt: the Court censored me. Censorship is this, to say that I can not publish something in my own space. An intrusion into my freedom to put whatever I like here. An interference in my editorial independence. This is the new banner's message. And this regime here in Brazil is still a democratic one even if a lame one. A state of law. The court decided that I can not publish it, I do not publish it. But I do say that I was censored.

Sociologist and political scientist Sérgio Amadeu [pt] blames the Brazilian blogosphere, himself included, for not fighting against the new regulations as soon as they were announced, and called the decision a grave interference with freedom of expression:

Não concordo nem um pouco com a candidatura do Gabeira, mas isso não me dá o direito de impedir que as pessoas, que com ela concordam, discutam a necessidade de sua candidatura. O objetivo da esfera pública é o debate entre os cidadãos sobre as escolhas que definem os destinos de sua cidade, estado, nação e planeta. Em vez de incentivar o espítito deliberacionista, a discussão política sobre as melhores alternativas para os governos, a Justiça Eleitoral do Rio de Janeiro age contra o direito de opinião e o uso público da razão. Ela acaba de exigir que Gabeira mande os blogueiros retirarem os banners que declaravam seu apoio. Um ato de confusão e censura. Isto é o que dá, não termos reagido com a força necessária a Resolução do TSE que restringe o uso da Internet nas eleições deste ano.

I do not agree even slightly with Gabeira's candidacy, but that does not give me the right to prevent people who agree with it discussing the need for his candidacy. The purpose of the public sphere is the debate between citizens on the choices that define the fate of their cities, state, nation and planet. Instead of encouraging the deliberating spirit and the political discussion about the best alternatives for governments, the Electoral Justice in Rio de Janeiro acts against the right of opinion and public use of reason. It has just demanded that Gabeira asks the bloggers to withdraw the banners in which they declared their support. An act of confusion and censorship. That is the consequence of not having reacted with the necessary strength to the TSE resolution that restricted the use of the Internet in this year's elections.

Rogério Christofoletti [pt] is among the bloggers who got confused about what they can say and what they can not on their on blogs:

Não voto no Rio. Não poderia manifestar meu voto no Gabeira, embora simpatize com ele. Mas será que a Justiça vai me censurar também por comentar a censura ao blog do Pedro Doria???

I don't vote in Rio, so I could not express my vote for Gabeira, although I have sympathy for him. But will the Justice censor me too for commenting on the censorship on Pedro Dória's blog?

If I was from Rio, I would vote for Gabeira
“If I was from Rio, I would vote for Gabeira”

Glaydson Lima [pt] can not vote in Rio either, but launched a protest publishing the above banner. He reminds readers that thanks to the Internet help, Barack Obama might win the American elections and stresses that any political debate is healthy for the population:

Debate na internet só é danoso para um grupo de raposas políticas que detêm o poder de mídia. Aqueles que conseguiram concessões públicas através de “arranjos” políticos. Que estão anos e anos sugando o dinheiro público através de todo tipo de ladroagem. Este tipo de gente não quer debate na internet. Este tipo de gente está batendo palmas para a decisão do TRE-RJ.

The debate on the Internet is only harmful to a group of political foxes who have the power of media. Those who managed to get public concessions through “political arrangements”. [Those who] have been for years and years sucking public money through all kinds of thievery. Such people do not want the debate on the Internet [to happen]. Such people are clapping the TRE-RJ's decision.

Gisele Honscha [pt], on the other hand, ponders other consequences of the non-regulation of blogs:

Não sou a favor da censura muito menos da coibição da liberdade de expressão. Por outro lado, devemos refletir: a partir da prática cada vez mais comum dos posts patrocinados, levando em conta que alguns blogueiros não costumam ser transparentes quanto a esta prática, como vamos saber quando um artigo em um blog é opinião e quando é propaganda? É possível que tenhamos “opiniões patrocinadas” nas próximas eleições? Como avaliar? Como julgar? Punir? Quem?

I'm not for censorship much less for hindering freedom of expression. On the other hand, we must think about it: considering the increasingly common practice of sponsored posts, taking into account that some bloggers do not tend to be transparent about this practice, how do we know whether an article on a blog is personal opinion or propaganda? Will we have “sponsored reviews” in the coming elections? How to evaluate? How to judge? To punish? Who?

Raquel Recuero [pt] believes that it is high time that what is regarded as electoral propaganda and what is a constitutionally guaranteed right of expression is clarified:

Inicialmente, estranho a ordem para que Gabeira retirasse do blog que não é seu e com o qual não tem nenhuma participação (exceto, talvez, por uma amizade com Pedro Doria) o banner e a campanha. Além de criar um precedente absurdo, não faz qualquer sentido. Isso quer dizer que, se eu fizesse aqui um blog em favor de um cadidato que detesto, o Exmo. Juiz mandaria cassar o candidato que não tem nada a ver com isso? Percebam o problema: com a lógica da Internet, onde cada indivíduo é um potencial produtor de conteúdo, é humanamente impossível ao mais bem intencionado candidato controlar o que 30 milhões de brasileiros estão fazendo aqui com o seu nome. Quero dizer, para mim, a ordem tem um vício em sua emissão, pois ela responsabiliza alguém que não pode ser responsabilizado pois não teria (tecnicamente) nenhum controle sobre os fatos. Em uma analogia simplória, seria como responsabilizar um candidato porque as pessoas estão falando sobre ele na rua.

To start with, it was odd to demand Gabeira to withdraw the banner and campaign from a blog that is not his and with which he has nothing to do (except, perhaps, being friends with Pedro Doria). In addition to creating an absurd precedent, it makes no sense. Does this mean that if I create a blog in support of a candidate that I hate, the Sir. Judge would ban the candidate that has nothing to do with it? See the problem: with the Internet logic, where each individual is a potential content producer, it is humanly impossible for the most well-intentioned candidate to control what 30 million Brazilians are doing here in his name. I mean, to me, the order is defectively issued, because someone who can not be held anyway responsible because he/she would have (technically) no control over the facts is made liable. In a simple analogy, it would be like making a candidate responsible of what people are saying about him/her on the streets.

Marcos Faria [pt] follows the logic explained by Recuero above and publishes banners supporting candidates that he does NOT want to see as the new Rio Mayor. He explains:

Agora, das duas, uma: ou os senhores juízes cassam todo candidato cujo banner eu resolver publicar ou então devolvem o meu direito a manifestar minha opinião. Porque quem proíbe um banner hoje proíbe um artigo amanhã, uma discussão outro dia, e acaba resolvendo que essa tal de democracia é uma coisa muito perigosa.

Now it is either one or another, the hounorable judges ban any candidate whose banner I decide to publish or give me back my right to express my opinion. Because he who forbids a banner today forbids an article tomorrow, a discussion another day, and eventually decides that this thing called democracy is a very dangerous thing.

Apparently, the judges went for the second choice. Thalles Waichert [pt] brings a piece of good news among all the confusion: in an overnight U-turn, the Justice decided that bloggers are now welcome to debate and express their opinions and candidates can now also use social networking tools to promote their campaign. He concludes that together the blogosphere is stronger than ever:

A voz da blogosfera se fez ouvir muito mais alto. O post do Pedro Dória falando sobre o caso foi publicado ontem. Hoje o JB Online publicou uma matéria dizendo que o TRE-RJ lançou uma portaria liberando a “campanha eleitoral nos blogs”. Olha que curioso… o discurso dos blogueiros forçaram uma alteração nas regras da eleição desse ano! Isso é grande heim…

The blogosphere voice speaks louder. Pedro Dória's post talking about the case was published yesterday [May 29]. Today the Online JB [Jornal do Brazil Online] published a piece of news saying that the TRE-RJ has launched an ordinance allowing the “election campaign on blogs” [pt]. Look… how curious that bloggers arguments forced a change in the rules of this year's election! This is the greatest point…

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