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Brazil: Call for a boycott of the country's biggest newspaper

At the end of November, two separate but somehow connected protest movements arose on the Brazilian blogosphere and twittersphere. One of them called on all bloggers to support a campaign of mass un-subscription to the largest Brazilian newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, and its website UOL. The second was a demonstration in front of the headquarters of the same media group, organized by the “Medialess Movement” headed by Cidadania [pt] blog, against a perceived bias and news manipulation of the Folha group.

Both the boycott campaign and the demonstration were sparked by the  newspaper's latest alleged attempt at character assassination against Brazilian president Lula da Silva, this time by publishing an article by César Benjamin, an ex-ally and current Folha columnist, claiming that Lula admitted in 1994 he had attempted to sexually subdue a fellow inmate when jailed for political crime in the 80′s. With the denial of the other people present at the said conversation and even those jailed with Lula during the dictatorship, including the said assaulted inmate, the author of the article apologised for any offense and the newspaper was forced to publish new stories denying the allegations a few days later.

Nevertheless, both movements converged as a larger protest organized through the blogosphere against what many call “PIG”, an acronym for the Coupist Press Party [in Portuguese Partido da Imprensa Golpista] a term coined to describe the biased Brazilian media that serves political interests. Twitter users @Dolphindiluna and @Aritana designed badges initially posted on the Arlesophia, Blog do Tsavkko and Maria Frô blogs, inviting readers to un-subscribe to the media group. These banners were spreading quickly on the blogosphere, when Folha sent a warning to cyberactivist and blogger Antonio Arles, claiming inappropriate use of the group's trade marks:



Arles briefly explains [pt] the situation and says he believes he has been intimidated by the largest Brazilian newspaper:

Acabo de ser notificado extrajudicialmente por escritório de advocacia representando a Folha para que retirasse os selos da campanha #CancelandoFOLHA #CancelandoUOL, sob pena de processo por suposto uso indevido das marcas. Sendo assim, retirei imediatamente os referidos selos.

No momento não poderei desenvolver um post explicando melhor o caso, mas deixo aqui meu protesto por mais este ato de censura contra blogs.


I have just been notified out of court by the law firm representing Folha [de São Paulo] to withdraw the #CancelandoFOLHA #CancelandoUOL (#unsubscribeFolha, #unsubscribeUOL) campaign badges, otherwise I may suffer legal action for alleged misuse of trade marks. Thus, I have immediately withdrawn those badges.

At the moment, I cannot write a post explaining the case further, but I protest here about one more act of censorship against blogs.

Was it really an act of censorship? Flávia Penido [pt] explains that by using registered trade marks, bloggers left room for the newspaper's lawyers to contest the campaign. She highlights law 9279/96:


Art. 189 – Comete crime contra registro de marca quem:

I – reproduz, sem autorização do titular, no todo ou em parte, marca registrada, ou imita-a de modo que possa induzir confusão; ou
II – altera marca registrada de outrem já aposta em produto colocado no mercado.

Pena – detenção, de 3 (três) meses a 1 (um) ano, ou multa.

Não tem o que espernear, certo?


Article 189 – A crime against trademark registration is committed by those who:

I – reproduce without the holder's permission, in whole or in part, trademark or imitates it in a way that may lead to confusion, or
II – change someone else's trademark of a product already on the market.

Penalty – detention of 3 (three) months to 1 (one) year or fine.

So, there is no reason to sulk, right?

Flávia Penido [pt] continues, pointing out:

No entanto, que fique claro a proibição da utilização da marca da Folha de São Paulo, não tem o condão de coibir a manifestação daqueles que pretendem boicotá-la – basta que se faça outro selo, sem usar o logo da FSP (atentando também para os crimes de injúria, calúnia, difamação – há que ser mais liso que um bagre, se é que me entendem, mas dá pra fazer, com relativa facilidade). [...]

Minha questão aqui é fazer com que todos pensem nas formas de se exercer a livre opinião – e mais do que isso, fazer com que as pessoas deem o correto valor às coisas: o que é mais importante? Fazer o protesto ganhar corpo, crescer, ou ficar dando murro em ponta de faca? Sério que o logo da FSP é tão importante assim pra campanha decolar? Eu acho que não.

However, let's make it clear that the prohibition to use Folha de São Paulo's trade mark is not powerful enough to stop people from boycotting it – you only need to make another badge without Folha's logo (and also be careful with crimes such as libel, slander, defamation – you must be a smart cookie, if you know what I mean, but you can do it relatively easily). [...]

My point here is to make everyone think about the ways to exercise freedom of speech – and more than that, to make people appreciate things in a correct way: what is more important? To help the protest take shape, grow, or carry on hitting the wall? Is the Folha logo really so important for the campaign to take off? I don't think so.

Antônio Arles, in photo by Aritanã Dantas.

Antônio Arles, in photo by Aritanã Dantas. Used under a Creative Commons License.

Antônio Mello [pt], who has just unsubscribed to the group's online portal UOL, has started a new campaign. He believes that if a large part of the blogosphere republishes the banned badges, Folha will not be able to notify every blogger and this will force the broadsheet into giving up:

As publico aqui, convocando-os para que façam o download delas para seus computadores e depois subam-nas para seus blogs ou redes sociais. Eles vão ter que notificar a blogosfera toda. Assim vão aprender que os tempos mudaram e não existe mais informação de mão única.

I have published [the badges] here, and invite everyone to download them onto their computers and then upload them onto their blogs or social networks. They will have to notify the whole blogosphere. Thus, they will learn that times have changed and information no longer flows in a single direction.

Marco Aurélio Weissheimer [pt] has joined the campaign and canceled his subscription to the group's product:

A razão: uso indevido da inteligência do assinante.

The reason: misuse of the intelligence of the subscriber.
Folha publishes fake documents. Unsubscribe to it!

"Folha publishes fake documents. Un-subscribe to it!"

Folha's decision to notify Arles fueled an even bigger reaction, and no sooner were the original logos banned than many alternative badges quickly appeared on the web. Rodrigo Vianna, from Escrevinhamentos [pt], publishes a banner on the left, that refers to a derogatory news piece published by Folha earlier this year against possible presidential candidate Dilma Roussef, using a spam email as its main source. The blogger says his campaign is not for the boycott of Folha, but to stop feeding their attitude:

A “Folha” não gosta de “banner” na internet que peça cancelamento de assinaturas do jornal. O diário da família Frias tentou até intimidar um blogueiro que publicou esses “banners”.
Mas a “Folha” gosta de ficha falsa na primeira página. Ah, ficha falsa pode!!
Então, o povo da internet resolveu bolar um “banner” novo, aproveitando a ficha falsa.

“Folha” doesn't like “banners” on the Internet asking people to cancel subscriptions. The daily paper of the Frias family has tried to intimidate a blogger who posted these banners. But “Folha” likes publishing fake [police] records on its front page. Ah, fake records are allowed!
So people have decided to come up with a new Internet banner, taking advantage of the fake record.

This second wave of online protest helped to encourage people to attend the demonstration on Saturday, 5th December, when dozens took to the streets of São Paulo and assembled in front of the Folha headquarters to protest against the newspaper's stance. This was the second time in less than a year that the blogosphere had mobilised to demonstrate there. With the motto “Folha rapes journalism”, I recall many reasons for the demonstration on my own blog:

Foi Ditabranda, Ficha falsa da Dilma, defesa descarada do Golpe em Honduras, defesa do DemoTucanato de forma inveterada, defesa de Israel, acusações infundadas contra o governo no caso do Blecaute – que em nada lembra o apagão e racionamento de FHC -, oposição sistemática ao governo de forma burra, mentira e violenta, baseada na franca manipulação, e, agora, o golpe de misericórdia, o artigo absurdo e criminoso acusando Lula de ser estuprador ou, ao menos, de ter tentado sê-lo.

There were the Ditabranda op-ed, [the presidential candidade] Dilma's fake police record, their shameless defense of the Honduras coup, their inveterate defense of the so called DemoTucanato [DEM and PSDB political parties], their defense of Israel, unfounded accusations against the government in the case of the blackout – they do not remember the blackout or [electricity] rationing during [former president] Fernando Henrique Cardoso's times – their systematic opposition to the government in a stupid, deceitful, and violent way, based on open manipulation, and now the coup de grâce, the preposterous and criminal article accusing Lula of being a rapist, or at least an attempted rapist.

"Folha de São Paulo: Headquarters of PIG - Coupist Press". Photo by Aritanã Dantas. Used under a Creative Commons License.

"Folha de São Paulo: Headquarters of PIG – Coupist Press". Photo by Aritanã Dantas. Used under a Creative Commons License.

The organizer of the demonstration last Saturday, Eduardo Guimarães [pt], described it as a success, with people coming from the states of São Paulo, Santa Catarina, Rio, Minas Gerais:

Missão cumprida e alma lavada. Perdeu quem não veio. Foi uma festa democrática.

The mission has been accomplished and my soul is relieved. Those who did not show up missed it. It was a democratic party.

Hurting the pockets

Claudinei Vieira [pt] wonders if the campaign may cause a real change of attitude at the paper, as the boycott seems to have been effective so far, for Folha to pay attention to it:

Isso significa, portanto, de imediato, duas coisas: que uma campanha pela internet realmente está incomodando a Folha, que resolveu revidar. Opa. E de tal modo que está atacando a toda blogosfera e, de quebra, ao direito de expressão. Outro Opa. [...]

Eu só fico pensando se eles realmente acreditam que essa campanha depende mesmo e somente de duas únicas imagens…

This immediately means, therefore, two things: that the Internet campaign is really bothering Folha, which has decided to fight back. Oops. And it is attacking the entire blogosphere and, to boot, attacking freedom of expression. Another Oops. [...]
I just wonder if they really believe that this campaign depends solely on two badges…

Some bloggers, such as Rodrigo Vianna [pt], believe that hurting the media in the pocket is a more effective way to discredit them than attending demonstrations:

Acho que a melhor forma de atacar essa turma é no bolso. Conheço uma dúzia de pesoas que cancelaram assinatura do jornal nas últimas semanas. Deve haver muitas outras por aí. Então, sugiro uma manifestação sóbria, em loval público, para um ato coletivo de cancelamento de assinaturas. [...]

Não é preciso “queimar jornal” (não gosto disso, lembra os rituais fascistas nos anos 30), nem gritar. Basta dizer: não darei mais meu dinheiro a você. Essa linguagem eles entendem.

I think the best way to attack this lot is in their pockets. I know some people who have un-subscribed to the paper in recent weeks. There must be many others out there. So, I suggest a sober demonstration in a public place for a collective act of canceling subscriptions. [...] There is no need to burn newspapers (I don't like it, it reminds me of the fascist rituals of the '30s), or to scream. Just say: I will no longer give my money to you. They understand this language.
"Don't read or subscribe to Falha". Falha is a wordplay with Folha, meaning "fail"

"Don't read or subscribe to Falha de São Paulo". Falha is a wordplay with Folha, meaning "fail"

Maurício Caleiro [pt] follows the same line of thought, agreeing that bloggers should concentrate on the online boycott campaign:

Deixar de comprar e deixar de comentar qualquer matéria da Folha: este me parece o melhor caminho para legar ao jornal a irrelevância que ele, por suas próprias ações, faz por merecer.

Stop buying and stop commenting on any piece of the paper: this seems the best way to bequeath the newspaper the irrelevance that, by its own actions, it deserves.

Maria Frô [pt] thinks that un-subscribing to the media group is not enough. She has published a list of companies that advertise in the paper and invited readers to boycott them too:

Além de cancelar assinaturas da FOLHA/UOL, proponho que boicotemos empresas e produtos que anunciem neste grupo empresarial. Quem deseja ter sua marca assinada a um jornal que pratica anti-jornalismo não merece que os cidadãos de bem prossigam consumindo seus serviços/produtos.

In addition to un-subscribing to FOLHA/UOL, I propose that we boycott products and companies that advertise in this business group. Those who want to have their brand associated with a newspaper that practices anti-journalism do not deserve law-abiding citizens to continue consuming their services/products.
Folha backed the dictatorship. Unsubscribe to it!

"Folha helped the dictatorship. Un-subscribe to it!"

Lauro Mesquita, from Guaciara blog [pt], says the group seem to be pursuing their own bankruptcy:

Assinatura do Uol e da Folha não rolam mais aqui e não é só pela ameaça ao blogueiro. Se um jornal é burro assim pra tratar com a discordância, imagina o tanto que é pior a sua opinião sobre as coisas do mundo. [...]

Do jeito que tá, até 2015, o grupo empresarial chega a meta da tiragem zero e seus proprietários vão gerir dois fanzines e 50% de um blog. Eu não vou sentir nenhuma saudade.

We do not subscribe here to UOL or Folha and this is not just because of the threat against the blogger [Arles]. If a newspaper deals with disagreementsis in a stupid manner like that, imagine how much worse their opinion about [other] things in the world must be. [...]
The way it is going, by 2015 the media group will reach its goal of going out of print and their owners will only manage two fanzines and half a blog. I will not miss them at all.
Co-authored by Paula Góes.

  • luis afonso

    O Foro de São Paulo domina a mídia brasileira e ainda tem descerebrados como este achando que “não tem midia”.Já a tem.
    “Golpe”. O único golpe foi o do PT enganando o povo brasileiro enquanto protegem as FARC, Chávez e Fidel.
    O trafico de drogas no país é monopólio das FARC graças aos esforços do presidente Lula.
    Isso é ridículo. Mais ainda que um site como este mostre este lixo como verdade.
    César Benjamim descreveu uma verdade. Tanto que o “acusado” nem vai tentar um processo.
    Lula, além de bêbado, é viado.

  • Raphael Tsavkko Garcia

    Bem, vamos ver com o editor se este comentário preconceituoso e homofóbico pode ser apagado. Este tipo de atitude intolerante em nada serve ao debate.

  • Pingback: Brazil: Newspaper Folha de São Paulo censors satirical blog · Global Voices

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