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Brazil: Plaintiffs try to silence one of the country's leading journalists

lucioflaviopintoAt 59 years of age, over 43 of which have been dedicated to his career, Lúcio Flávio Pinto is a prize winning journalist from the Brazilian state of Pará who  independently runs the small biweekly Jornal Pessoal [Personal Newspaper, pt]. Reporting as it does on drug trafficking, environmental issues, and political and corporate corruption, as well as media bias and domination, it is no news that Pinto has been subject to a number of lawsuits.

The last piece of news from the courts came on Monday, 7th July, when Judge Raimundo das Chagas Filho ordered the journalist to pay R$ 30,000 (approximately US$15,000) in damages in a civil libel suit to brothers Ronaldo and Romulo Maiorana Jr., principals of the powerful regional media company Organizações Romulo Maiorana, with a two newspapers, two radio stations and a TV channel, affiliated to Globo Network. They had argued that the memory of their father had been damaged by an article published in 2005 in the Jornal Pessoal newspaper, which has now been republished on many blogs.

According to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, “the decision is part of a systematic pattern of legal harassment against Pinto, who faces more than 10 lawsuits from powerful plaintiffs”. The CPJ Senior Americas Program Coordinator, Carlos Lauría, says: “We call on Judge Raimundo das Chagas Filho to overturn the sentence. By suing Pinto, the plaintiffs are trying to silence one of Brazil's leading journalists.” In 2005, Lúcio Flávio Pinto won the CPJ International Press Freedom Award, covering corruption in Brazil's lawless Amazon.

Rose Silveira from Observatório de Imprensa [Press Observatory, pt] brings Pinto's impressive achievements as an independent journalist into focus:

Lúcio Flávio Pinto, de 59 anos, em quatro décadas de jornalismo é um dos profissionais mais respeitados no Brasil e no exterior. Seu Jornal Pessoal resiste, de forma alternativa, há 22 anos, sem aceitar patrocínio ou anúncios, garantindo a independência de seu editor frente aos temas públicos do Pará, sobretudo na seara política. Por sua atuação intransigente frente aos desmandos políticos, às injustiças sociais e ao desrespeito aos direitos humanos, recebeu prêmios internacionais importantes: em 1997, em Roma, o prêmio Colombe d´Oro per La Pace; e em 2005, em Nova York, o prêmio anual do CPJ (Comittee for Jornalists Protection). Além disso, é premiado com vários Esso. É também autor de 14 livros, tendo como tema central a Amazônia; os mais recwentes são Contra o Poder, Memória do Cotidiano e Amazônia Sangrada (de FHC a Lula).

In four decades of journalism, Lúcio Flávio Pinto, 59,  has been one of the most respected professionals in Brazil and abroad. His Jornal Pessoal has resisted, in an alternative way, for 22 years, without accepting sponsorship or advertising, ensuring the independence of its editor when it comes to the public issues of Pará, especially in political matters. For his uncompromising action against misuse of politics, social injustice and disrespect of human rights, he has received important international awards: in 1997 in Rome, the Colombe d'Oro per la Pace prize, and in 2005 in New York, the CPJ (Committee for the Protection of Journalists) annual prize. Furthermore, he has been rewarded with several Esso prizes. He is also the author of 14 books, with the Amazon as the central plot: the most recent are Contra o Poder [Against Power], Memória do Cotidiano [Memories of Daily Life] and Amazônia Sangrada (de FHC a Lula) [Bleeding Amazon (from FHC to Lula)].

The Maiorana persecution of Pinto has lasted for 17 years and the news of the sentence imposed on him has shocked many, including Pinto himself. In a letter to his readers, republished on many blogs such as morenocris [pt], Pinto says he is perplexed at the punishment and the Judge's justification of it, which, according to him, has no correspondence with the facts and contemplates only the plaintiffs’ version of facts:

O juiz alega na sua sentença que escrevi o artigo movido por um “sentimento de revanche” contra os irmãos Maiorana. Isto porque, “meses antes de tamanha inspiração”, me envolvi “em grave desentendimento” com eles.

O “grave desentendimento” foi a agressão que sofri, praticada por um dos irmãos, Ronaldo Maiorana. A agressão foi cometida por trás, dentro de um restaurante, onde eu almoçava com amigos, sem a menor possibilidade de defesa da minha parte, atacado de surpresa que fui. Ronaldo Maiorana teve ainda a cobertura de dois policiais militares, atuando como seus seguranças particulares. Agrediu-me e saiu, impune, como planejara. Minha única reação foi comunicar o fato em uma delegacia de polícia, sem a possibilidade de flagrante, porque o agressor se evadiu. Mas a deliberada agressão foi documentada pelas imagens de um celular, exibidas por emissora de televisão de Belém.

The Judge argues in his sentence that I wrote the article driven by a “sense of revenge” against the Maiorano brothers. This is because, “months before such an inspiration”, I was involved “in a serious disagreement” with them.

The “serious disagreement” was the assault I suffered, committed by one of the brothers, Ronaldo Maiorano. The assault was behind my back, in a restaurant, where I was having lunch with friends, without any possibility of defense, I was attacked by surprise. Ronaldo Maiorano was covered by two state police officers, acting as his private security guards. He attacked me and left, unpunished, as he had planned. My only reaction was to communicate the fact to the police, without the possibility of catching him red-handed, because the offender had escaped. But the deliberate attack was documented on a mobile phone, and broadcast by a TV channel in Belém.

The article at the center piece of the disagreement was written for a book eight months after the said aggression, and only after publication in Italy was it re-published in Pinto's personal newspaper. Idelber Avelar [pt] pinpoints a more feasible reason for the lawsuit:

Alguns meses depois da agressão, Lúcio foi convidado pelo jornalista Maurizio Chierici a escrever um artigo para um livro a ser publicado na Itália. O texto, eminentemente jornalístico, relatava as origens do grupo Liberal. Em determinado momento, dentro de um contexto bem mais amplo, ele fez referência às atividades de Maiorana pai no contrabando, prática bem comum, aliás, na Região Norte na época. Como se pode depreender da leitura do artigo, nada ali tinha cunho calunioso, posto que – uma vez processado –, Lúcio anexou aos autos toda a documentação que provava a veracidade do que afirmava. (…)

A obra investigativa de Lúcio fala por si própria: veja a qualidade da prosa e da pesquisa que informa o trabalho de Lúcio e julgue você mesmo. O que ele oferece em seus textos, entre muitas outras coisas, é a documentação, história e raízes daquilo que é sabido até mesmo pelos mosquitos do mercado Ver-o-Peso: que n’O Liberal só se publica aquilo que é de interesse da corja dos Marinho.

Some months after the assault, Lúcio was invited by journalist Maurizio Chierici to write an article for a book to be published in Italy. The text, eminently journalistic, described the origins of the Liberal media group. At some point, and within a broader context, he referred to the smuggling activities of the Maioranos’ father, actually a common practice in the Northern Region at the time. As it is possible to see from reading the article, there was nothing of a libelous nature, since – when taken to court – Lúcio appended to the file all the documents proving himself right.
The investigative work of Lúcio speaks for itself: check the quality of his prose and research that backs up his work and judge for yourself. What he offers in his writings, among many other things, is the documentation, history and roots of what is known even by mosquitoes of the Ver-o-Peso Market: that in the Liberal newspaper only what is of interest to the [Globo TV Network owners] Marinho rabble gets published.
A screenshot of Jornal Pessoal – Pinto's personal newspaper

A screenshot of Jornal Pessoal – Pinto's personal newspaper, only recently published online too

The judge also banned Pinto from publishing the names of the Maiorana brothers in Jornal Pessoal, and if he doesn't comply with the judge's decision he can be charged with contempt. Walter Rodrigues [pt] says the fee is surreal considering that Jornal Pessoal has a circulation of only 2,000 papers. He calls it plain censorship:

Segundo a sentença do juiz Raimundo das Chagas Filho, Lúcio Flávio pode muito bem pagar a indenização, por ser dono de um jornal “periódico de grande aceitação pelo público, principalmente pela classe estudantil, o que lhe garante um bom lucro”. O JP, na verdade, vive apenas da venda avulsa, sem assinantes nem anunciantes, praticamente não dá lucro e parou de circular várias vezes, nos últimos 15 anos, por falta de recursos.

A imposição de censura — vedada na Constituição — consiste na proibição de citar negativamente o nome dos Maiorana em matérias futuras, sob pena de multa de mais R$ 30 mil. Já o direito de resposta nunca fora solicitado diretamente ao jornalista, nem este jamais o havia recusado a ninguém.

According to Judge Raimundo Chagas Filho's verdict, Lúcio Flávio is well able to pay the compensation, as the owner of a  “newspaper of wide acceptance by the public, especially by students, which ensures him a good profit”. In fact Jornal Pessoal, survives only from sale on the streets with no subscribers or advertising, makes virtually no profit and has stopped printing several times in the last 15 years, because of a lack of resources.

The imposition of censorship – prohibited in the constitution – is the ban on mentioning the name of the Maiorano family negatively in future pieces, under penalty of a fine of more than R$ 30,000. However, the journalist has never been asked to publish a reply, nor has the opportunity to reply ever been denied.

Ana Célia Pinheiro [pt] agrees, and says that Judge Raimundo das Chagas seems to be “absolutely unprepared for the pursuit of the Judiciary”:

Não pode um juiz pisotear a Constituição e impor a censura prévia, como fez o senhor Raimundo das Chagas em relação ao jornalista Lúcio Flávio Pinto. (…)

Não pode um juiz simplesmente ignorar as provas trazidas aos autos, no afã de transformar a vítima em algoz.

Não pode um juiz esquecer a importância do serviço que presta à coletividade – e não, simplesmente, a alguns.

A judge cannot trample the constitution and impose prior censorship, as did Mr. Raimundo Chagas on the journalist Lúcio Flávio Pinto. […] A judge cannot simply ignore the evidence brought to the file, solicitous to turn the victim into the tormentor.

A judge cannot forget the importance of the service he provides to the community – and not simply to a few.

Marcus Benedito [pt] publishes the full text of the decision and points out a factual discrepancies:

O mesmo artigo 5º da Constituição Federal – CF, que deveria garantir o direito à informação, à liberdade de expressão etc, foi utilizado pela oligarquia Maiorana para condenar Lúcio Flávio Pinto.

The same Article 5 of the Federal Constitution, which should guarantee the right to information, freedom of expression etc., was used by the oligarchy to condemn Maiorano Lúcio Flávio Pinto.

Pinto can still appeal against the decision, but while the mainstream media has been incredibly quiet about the sentence, the blogosphere immediately started a campaign to help him to foot the bill (which should be paid in addition to legal costs) and to promote awareness of this example of yet another instance of harassment against independent journalists and bloggers. A new blog [pt] has been created by Lucia Gomes, primarily to gather signatures in solidarity with Lúcio Flávio Pinto. Over 200 people have signed so far. According to the blog:

Esse fato demonstra o que significa fazer jornalismo de verdade na capital do Pará: uma condenação.

This shows what it means to make real journalism in the capital of Pará: a conviction.

Even for those who haven't got much money to donate, any help will do as a token, as Alex Castro [pt], a self publishing author, points out. He has donated the same amount as the price of his upcoming book, “Mulher de um Homem Só” [Woman of Just one Man, as of yet untranslated].

Façam suas contas e conversem com suas consciências. Pesem quanto podem dar e quanto vale uma imprensa genuinamente independente. E, se acharem que devem, ajudem.

Make your calculations and chat with you consciences. Weigh up how much you can donate and how much a genuinely independent press is worth. And help, if you think you should.

Eva Maués [pt] takes on the suggestion from a comment and heads the “coinage” campaign. She explains:

Todos os solidários ao Lúcio, que já provou não ter condições de arcar com tal despesa, podem doar moedas para que os R$ 30 mil sejam pagos em moedas de R$ 0,10. Já gostei e reforço aqui no blog a campanha. Vamos todos juntar as 300 mil moedas necessárias ao troco para os Maiorana.

Everyone showing solidarity to Lúcio, who has proven not to be able to bear such costs, can donate coins so that the R$ 30,000 will be paid in R$ 0.10 coins. I like the idea and  here on the blog back this campaign. Let's all gather the 300,000 coins needed to give Maiorano his change.

Luciane Fiúza de Mello [pt] summarizes the feelings of many bloggers:

Lúcio Flávio Pinto, estamos todos contigo e contra esta Justiça corrompida que envergonha a gente. Que este juiz absurdo sinta o peso da injustiça que está cometendo.

Lúcio Flávio Pinto, we are all with you and against this corrupt justice that shames us. I hope that this nonsense judge feels the weight of the injustice he is committing.

Global Voices has another post on the subject: Brazil: Judicial decisions, a growing threat to online freedom.

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