Brazil: Attempts to censor a documentary about censorship

London based Brazilian filmmaker Daniel Florêncio had a surprise on September 22, when his film Gagged in Brazil was taken off the Current TV networks. The documentary, “an investigation into the seemingly increasingly curtailed press in Brazil”, depicts freedom of press and the relationship between media and politics, looking closely at the involvement of Aécio Neves, the powerful governor of the second most populous and fourth largest by area in the federation, Minas Gerais. It explores the way that the local media offers only favorable news about the Brazilian Social Democracy Party run government, and the lack of journalistic investigation or debate about the errors of the same administration. A day after, his former commissioning editor on Current TV contacted him to explain the reasons [pt]:

Segundo ela, na semana anterior, os executivos seniors do canal nos EUA receberam cartas com severas considerações e críticas sérias em relação ao filme. As cartas foram enviadas pelo PSDB de Minas Gerais. O PSDB afirmava que meu filme tinha caráter político-partidário, que não representava a realidade do acontecido no estado e questionava minha conduta ética na produção do filme. Junto as cartas foram enviadas também cópias da versão em inglês do vídeo produzido pelo PSDB e postado no YouTube.

According to her, in the previous week, the channel's seniors executives in the U.S. received letters containing severe criticism and serious considerations regarding the film. These letters were sent by the Minas Gerais’ PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party). PSDB stated that my film had a political-party character and it did not represent the reality of the situation in the state, and they challenged my ethical conduct in the production of the film. Alongside the letters, they also sent copies of the English version of the video produced by PSDB and posted on YouTube.

Many bloggers, such as Paulo Fehlauer from Na Rua (screenshot above) had uploaded the video and for over a month exhibited an error message. Meanwhile, Current TV launched a month long investigation into the allegations and into Florêncio's journalism procedures, resulting in Gagged in Brazil being put back online. André Deak [pt], who had interviewed Florêncio [pt] for his blog earlier this year, brings the news as a victory for freedom of press:

Em alguns lugares (especialmente na rede), parece que o jornalismo ainda é possível.

In some places (especially on the net), it seems that journalism is still viable.

Released on the Current TV in UK on May 27, 2008, and in the US a week before, Gagged in Brazil had a Portuguese subtitled version uploaded on YouTube, triggering a huge reaction: its link made the rounds on e-mails, networking websites and the video achieved over 2,000 hits on Google, over 100,000 views on YouTube, not to mention the 6,000 hits on the Current TV version, in English.

Commenting on the film at the time of its release, Catatau [pt] says:

Salta aos olhos o enquadramento jornalístico de determinadas figuras políticas, como Aécio Neves e Lula. Enquanto para determinados políticos a linha editorial é branda, para outros a cobertura é implacável. Como se a imprensa escolhesse o rigor ou a parcialidade a partir de um jogo que foge aos olhos do espectador.

The journalistic framework for certain political figures, such as Aecio Neves and Lula, stands up. While for some politicians the editorial line is bland, for others the coverage is merciless. It is as if the media chose between accuracy or bias in a game that is far away from the eyes of the spectator.

Soon after, Gagged in Brazil – The Other Side, the video response below, was posted on YouTube by the youth group at PSDB – and other six followed. The filmmaker has been accused of partisanship, data manipulation and non observation of journalistic principles. It also suggests that the documentary did not deserve that much attention because the filmmaker was just an expatriate Brazilian from Minas, not a reputed British journalist.

Freedom of press – an old issue

Gagged in Brazil was inspired by Liberdade, Essa Palavra (“Freedom, That Word”), a 2006 video report by then journalism student Marcelo Baêta, shot for his graduation dissertation. It linked the firing of five journalist in 2002 and 2003 to stories they wrote/broadcast that were critical of Aécio Neves. As Neves gets ready to run as presidential candidate in 2010, “the issue of press manipulation continues to unfold in Brazil”, discovers Elizabeth Tuttle during an interview with Marcelo Baêta for the Columbia Journalism Review. What's the relevance of his documentary now?

First, Neves is one of the main presidential hopefuls for the 2010 elections. Second, the international repercussions of my video-documentary are still reverberating. This past May, it was heavily featured on the Current TV documentary “Gagged in Brazil,” which has since been viewed on YouTube 50,000 times. In June, the governor’s PR department posted yet another video response, this time to the Current TV's video.

In a recent comment on the article above, reader Diógenes Pinto Carvalhaes claims that Columbia Journalism School should not have published such an interview without “showing ‘the other side’ of this controversial subject”:

I thought this subject was buried in the past, but it returns again like a ghost. Why is it coming back? For the same reason that it has appeared in 2006… At that moment, the alleged censorship in Minas Gerais was a leitmotiv in the opposition campaign, when Aécio Neves was running for a second term. Macelo Baêta’s video was a precious item of propaganda against Aécio Neves and largely scattered by anonymous spams in the internet. Now, Aécio Neves is one of the names most seriously considered for nomination in the next Brazilian presidential campaign.

However, the case of media censorship in Minas Gerais is far from a buried issue. In the middle of the local election last September, the opposing news website ‘Novo Jornal’ was taken down by Brazil's Public Ministry (state level prosecutors) on charges of anonymity, as reported by Global Voices. And not even blogs escape from politicians’ attempts to gag those who try to have a voice on their own. Only last month, political scientist Fernando Massote [pt] was under threat of legal action by a local politician for replicating unfavorable news on his blog:

Informo que estou respondendo a interpelação judicial interposta pelo Sr. Marcio Lacerda. O candidato a prefeitura de BH me intima a confirmar conteúdos publicados no meu blog e me ameaça de processo por difamação, calúnia e injuria. Sendo assim, confirmo a autoria de todos os textos definitivos que foram postados e permaneceram no meu blog, da data em que foram publicados até hoje. Estes textos são muito conhecidos pela alta freqüência de visitantes à minha publicação eletrônica. A difusão do meu blog, como todos sabem, é uma conseqüência entre outros fatores, da grande crise da imprensa em Minas Gerais, causada também pela censura de que é vitima e que tem sido amplamente denunciada.

Please be aware that I have been subject to legal procedure by Mr. Marcio Lacerda. The Belo Horizonte‘s mayor candidate intimated me to confirm the content published on my blog and threatened legal action against me for defamation, libel and injury. Thus, I confirm the authorship of all final texts that have been posted and remain on my blog, from the date on which they were published up to now. These texts are well known because of my electronic publication's big pool of visitors. As everyone knows, the popularity of my blog is a consequence, among other factors, of the great crisis faced by Minas Gerais’ press, which is also caused by the censorship that falls on them and which has been widely denounced.


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