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Brazil: Newspaper Folha de São Paulo censors satirical blog

Photomontage of Folha de São Paulo's cover where you read Only the Folha must define what democracy is – Used under CC 2.0

In late September, the satirical website Falha de São Paulo was removed from the web by an injunction in the Brazilian courts.

The site's purpose was to satirize newspaper Folha de São Paulo – the biggest in Brazil. It posted mocking montages [pt] of the newspaper, fake and ironic headlines, and set up a “generator of headlines” [pt] using the Folha layout  [The current generator is not authored by the creators of the Falha de São Paulo website, but made by anonymous -  GV note].

The authors of the blog, brothers Lino and Mario Bocchini, explain the case:

The blog was a parody of Brazil’s biggest newspaper company, Folha de S. Paulo. In Portuguese, “Folha” is similar to the English word for “Journal”. And “Folha” sounds almost like “Falha”, which in Portuguese means “failure”. (…) It hardly took a month for Folha de S. Paulo to go to court demanding the censorship of the satirical blog. (…) And it got worse: the newspaper also began an 88-page lawsuit against the creators of blog, asking for a financial compensation for moral damages.

Falha's "Generator of headlines" – Used under CC 2.0

Fausto Salvadori, of the blog Boteco Sujo [Dirty Bar], clarifies [pt]:

Em 30 de setembro, o jornal conseguiu uma liminar que obrigava os irmãos Lino e Mario Bocchini a tirar do ar o conteúdo da Falha de S. Paulo, um site de humor que tirava um barato do indisfarçável viés pró-tucano que aterrissou com mais força do que nunca na Barão de Limeira dos últimos tempos. Os dois foram obrigados a remover do ar todo o conteúdo do site, sob pena de pagar multa diária de R$ 1.000. Segundo Lino, a empresa nem chegou a enviar uma notificação extrajudicial ou um pedido por e-mail: já foi logo apelando para o processo.

On September 30, the newspaper [Folha] won a court order that forced the brothers Lino and Mario Bocchini to shut down the contents of the Falha de São Paulo, a humorous  site that  unabashedly mock the  pro-toucano [a term referring to Brazil's largest opposition party, PSDB] bias that landed harder than ever in the Barão de Limeira [Folha de São Paulo's address] in recent times. The two were forced to remove the entire contents of the site from the air, otherwise they would have had to pay a daily fine of R$1,000 [about 588 USD]. According to Lino, the company did not even send an extra judicial notification or a request by e-mail: they immediately appealed  to the process.

Dozens of blogs, newspapers and magazines came out in defense [pt] of the website and its authors to freedom of expression. Folha is known for the censoring its critics in the blogosphere, and this is not the first time that Brazilian bloggers showed unity against such practices.

Meanwhile, the journalists’ union in São Paulo condemned the censoring [pt] of Falha, citing other recent cases of censorship promoted by mainstream media.

Forced to remove the site's content, the Bocchini brothers, in the same ironic tone used during the time the project was online, posted a copy [pt] of the injunction signed by the judge alongside the e-mail from Registro.br legal counsel, the company responsible for registering Internet domain names in Brazil. The brothers added a message criticizing the “violent act of censorship”

The musician and former Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil has also spoken about the case, saying that the expression Falha de São Paulo was firstly used by the famous musician and political activist Caetano Veloso [vídeo with English subtitles]

Gio Mendes, from the blog Mondo Cane, comments [pt] on the hypocrisy of the newspaper in criticising bloggers for allegedly misusing its trademark, while its own columnists are allowed to satirise freely:

A advogada da Folha, Taís Gasparian, alegou que o jornal não queria censurar o site, mas apenas impedir o uso indevido da marca Folha de S.Paulo. Uso indevido? Os caras apenas satirizaram uma marca, coisa que o colunista José Simão tem liberdade para fazer no jornalão da família Frias. Aliás, como bem lembrou o mano Fausto, do blog Boteco Sujo, quando o Simão foi vítima da mesma censura judicial por conta de uma piada que ele fez com a atriz Juliana Paes, a mesma advogada disse que a decisão do juiz tratava “o humor como ilícito e, no fim das contas, é a mesma coisa que censura”.

Folha's attorney , Taís Gasparian, claimed that the newspaper did not want to censor the site but only to prevent misuse of Folha de S. Paulo trademark. Misuse? The guys just skittered a brand, something the columnist José Simão has the freedom to do at the Frias family's big newspaper [the Frias family owns Folha]. Moreover, as reminded my brother Fausto, from the blog Boteco Sujo [Dirty Bar], when Simão was a victim of the same judicial censorship on behalf of a joke he made with the [Brazilian TV] actress Juliana Paes, the same lawyer said the judge's decision treated “humor as illegal and, ultimately, is the same as censorship. “

The Bocchini brothers explain the reason behind being censored, claiming it is the first of its kind in Brazil:

This is the reason why the brothers have decided to spread news beyond the borders of their own country: In Brazil, less than 10 families run the most influential means of communication [...]. For corporate reasons, those families’ means of communication never highlight stories that may affect one another. It ‘s become a tradition in Brazil. This is the first time a blog has been censored and sued in Brazil for this reason.

Rodrigo Vianna, from the blog Escrevinhador, gives his opinion [pt] on the trademark question raised by the newspaper:

A questão da marca foi só a brecha que eles encontraram; o fato é que a Folha mostrou como é contraditória – defende a liberdade de expressão pra ela, mas quando passa a ser vítima de crítica, aí o jornal se transforma em censor de fato.

The trademark question was the only gap they found; the fact is that Folha showed how contradictory it is – it defends freedom of expression for itself, but when comes to being the victim of criticism, the paper then turns into a real censor.

And adds:

É preciso dizer duas coisas ao diretor do jornal:

- Todo poder tem limite;

- Fique advertido, seu tempo de falar sozinho acabou!

It is necessary to say two things to the director of the newspaper:
- All power has its limits;
- Be warned, your time to talk alone is over!

Lua Barbosa, from the blog blog Molho de Pimenta [Pepper Sauce] says [pt]:

A liberdade de expressão existe (ou deveria existir!) para que as pessoas possam dizer o que pensam. Porém, isso é o que menos tem ocorrido.

Freedom of expression exists (or should exist!) so that people can say what they think. But that is what has occurred less.

Example of good-humored photomontage: the face of Otavio Frias Filho – the owner of the newspaper – over the body of Darth Vader. Used under a Creative Commons 2.0 License

A Tumblr account was created [pt] at the time by anonymous bloggers to rescue Falha's posts. The blog Desculpe a Nossa Falha [Forgive our Failure, pt] was also created by the Bocchini brothers to update readers on, and garner support for their international campaign promoting freedom of expression. The brothers translated explanatory texts in various languages in search of support and visibility amongst bloggers and the international media against the censorship imposed on them.

Most recently, on December 15, a justice court of the state of São Paulo denied [pt] the application for suspension of the injunction against Falha, with the statement of one of the judges present at the trial resembling that of the newspaper, in which the website was labelled a “blatant case of parasitic competition”.

In a video-interview [pt] conducted by students of the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUCSP), Lino Bocchini also talks about the repercussions of the case.

This post was proofread by Marta Cooper.

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