Brazil: While traditional media deals with lawsuits, blogs report

Two of the biggest media companies in Brazil are currently involved is court cases that similarly raise the issue of freedom of speech and press even though the media finds itself on opposite sides of the issue in the two cases. The influential newspaper ‘Folha de SP’ is facing a series of lawsuits filed by followers of an evangelical church, while Veja, the top weekly magazine, and some of its main editors are going after a blogger through another series of lawsuits. Taking the larger view, the Brazilian blogosphere is uniquely pointing out the similarity and contradictions revealed by the connectedness of both situations.

Folha’s problems started a week ago when Elvira Lobato, a reporter who is now facing about 50 individual suits, published an article about the finances of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God – IURD, and its connections with tax havens. The piece lists the TV network (2nd national audience), 23 TV and 40 radio stations, besides the other 19 companies — 2 newspapers included — that forms the church’s ‘empire’, but the suits actually complain about IURD being portrayed as a ‘sect’.

The issue has called RSF’s attention, and the ABI [Brazilian Press Association] has released a note [pt] describing IURD’s reaction as an ‘unprecedented coercive campaign in Brazilian media history’. While the suits against Folha has generated such compelling response from traditional media and its backers, a very different approach is being adopted towards the legal dispute between Veja magazine and the journalist-turned-into-blogger Luis Nassif. As expected, the blogosphere has much to say about that.

The blogosphere is sizzling about Luis Nassif’s political-idoeological(?) dispute with Veja magazine. This is the first time I see an issue generating so much debate in the blogosphere. The curious thing about it is that not only the political blogs are following the theme. Earlier this year, Nassif has started to publish a series of articles about the role of Veja magazine in political affairs of the country’s recent story, specially during FHC and Lula’s government.
Luis Nassif X Veja Magazine: the blogosphere is sizzling

I’ve already written about that here, and I’ll repeat: I see no difference between IURD and big media in terms of character. Morally speaking, they are made of the same stuff. A reader asks me if I am in favor of the series of suits that IURD followers filed against ‘Folha’. Obviously not, but they are within their rights. In a democracy disputes are resolved in courts, and not through fights as it were in the age of the caves. Veja has decided to sue Luis Nassif using the same procedure, and until now I’ve not seen any national movement led by the OAB [the Brazilian equivalent of the American Bar Association], or the ABI [Brazilian Press Association] in defense of the journalist. Hypocrisy is a tribute that virtue pays to vice [sic]. Leave me out of that.
José, the Bishop, Nassif and HypocrisyBlog do Ailton

In response to Nassif’s denouncements, Veja magazine has filed legal suits against the journalist. The magazine has not refuted any of Nassif’s allegations, and has been using legal technicalities in order to delay or hamper the publication of the series of articles. The magazine has the right to go to the courts to seek reparation for possible damages. BUT, everytime the press publishes empty charges and somebody seeks for reparation, he/she is promptly accused of trying to silence the press, or acting against freedom. This time, no media outlet or big newspaper has come in defense of Nassif’s journalistic freedoms. Two weights, two measures. It is always like this. The curious thing is that the big media has been silent about Nassif’s charges. It is the big case of the moment in all newsrooms, on the web pages, but not even a line about the issue can be found in any big newspaper.
The battle Nassif vs. Veja: Big media in defensive modeBlog do Desemprego Zero

As the whole Internet already knows, Luiz Nassif is publishing a series of accusations against Veja. I don’t know what motivates him; after all, as he says about me, these ‘are complicated themes, and she does not master the field’ … He must have his reasons, imperceptible to my naivety. I disagree with his political positions in general, which is not a surprise for anybody who reads what I write, and reads what he writes, in case there is someone included in such contrasting categories. But this is secondary, as it is secondary that, personally, we have built respect and appreciation one for the other. What matters, here, is that Veja has decided to sue him. Terrible decision! The press is going through a delicate moment, with lawsuits abounding everywhere. Just to mention the latest example, here we have the IURD casting a series of lawsuits over Elvira Lobato [Folha’s reporter] through its followers, with the clear intention to silence her.
Nassif vs. VejainternETC

IURD is worried about the effects that Folha’s articles, and also the ones from the two others newspapers — one from Rio and one from Bahia — may have had in the corporate partnerships needed to guarantee the expasion of the empire founded by Bishop Macedo [IURD’s religious leader]. On the other side, Folha and the other newspapers are afraid that the wave of lawsuits against the journalist Elvira Lobato, and the reporters Bruno Thys (‘Extra’, from Rio de Janeiro) e Walmar Hupsel Filho (‘A Tarde’, from Bahia), authors of three different reports, will end up in an expensive bill of legal costs. The strategy, from both sides, is to contend over the concept of freedom: religious freedom and press freedom. These are two heavy arguments in terms of political marketing strategy, but fragile ones in terms of content. The reports do not threaten religious freedom, maybe only Bishop Macedo’s businesses, in the same way that the lawsuits filed by IURD’s followers do not threaten freedoms related to press and information. Meanwhile, the readers (at least the ones here at the Observatory) are showing a different approach to the issue. They do not show any sympathy for the Universal Church, but they do not sympathize with the press either… [At least] a segment of the universe of Brazilian readers is starting to show signs of maturity to experiment colaborative forms of information production, which is one of the big inovations brought by the web.
Another polemic around the mediaCódigo Aberto (Observatório da Imprensa)

This feature of collaborative production of information is one of the most interesting aspects of Nassif’s series of articles. In the lastest chapters many readers of Nassif’s blog — should we say, community of readers? — are helping in the analysis of elements, links and evidence related to the intricate collection of facts that forms the ‘Veja Case’. This novelty, along with the perception that the quest for quality of information in the blogosphere is starting to rise above the usual left / right bickering, maybe a sign of the blossoming maturity of Brazilian blogs.

I call your attention to a genuine result of networking. The piece below closes the chapter ‘Lula is my alibi’, in the Veja dossier. It was a meticulous research job made by you (click here to read the chapter). When I asked for help from you, there were some people who laughed at my request. This crowd does not know anything about networked collaborative work.
The network and the g00db0ysLuis Nassif Online

Something very important is happening in the Brazilian blogosphere since Luis Nassif has started to publish his reports about Veja magazine: the conversation has experienced an upgrade. From the habitual altercation between blogs from the left and blogs from the right, something new has emerged in the debate: information. Nassif is using a traditional tool, the report, to present to his readers the information he has collected, I am certain, after many interviews. (It takes work to inform). But as he used a blog to publish the stuff, the blogosphere gets better. Our blogosphere has not ben committed to to inform, even less to produce information from zero. Our hope now is that, following him, without hysteria, someone will take on the activities of the Secretary of Communication of the present government — or even from the last government — and show its habits. Who is favored, what are the standards for distributing advertisement, what is the editorial line of the ones awarded, and is it always the same ones? We journalists are accustomed to demand tranparency from governments and big companies. The media — and yes, it includes the blogs — holds one of the most delicate tasks of democracy: the role to inform. It is through the media that the audience takes notice of what is going on. Without a free media it is not possible to form an opinion. The same transparency that the media demands from governments and companies should be applied to us. We will probably have fights and polemics — of the healthy kind.
Luis Nassif, Veja and the blogospherePedro Dória Weblog

Thus there are signs, as the blogosphere grows in significance, that it has begun to ask for itself the deeper questions of what produces both free and good information.