An initiative in response to the increasing threats to freedom of the press and judicial harassment of journalists and communicators in Brazil begins to operate this Tuesday (13.April.2021). This is the Legal Protection Program for Journalists, created by the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji), with funding from the international organization Media Defence and a partnership with Tornavoz Institute.
The Program's objectives are to guarantee legal assistance to journalists who, due to their work, are being silenced or constrained through legal proceedings. Professionals who are being harassed, threatened and persecuted, and who have an interest in civilly prosecuting the attackers, seeking to end the attacks and/or to repair damages, are also welcome.
"We have seen an increase in the use of justice as a way to intimidate and restrict journalistic work. One example is the requests to remove content from the air, as shown by the more than 5,000 cases of the type mapped by the Ctrl-X project. Another is the use of Special Civil Courts (JECs), designed to deal with cases of less complexity and which are being increasingly used to prosecute journalists", says Cristina Zahar, executive secretary of Abraji.
"The Protection Program appears in this context intending to defend the freedoms of expression and the press, and the right to inform, intrinsic of doing journalism, characterized as a work of public interest", she adds.
For Taís Gasparian, from the Tornavoz Institute, citizens in general, especially journalists, artists, and media outlets, have been subject to constraint through the instrumentalization of the Judiciary. "Saying they are offended, people sue who would have been the offender, just to intimidate him. These people have no real interest in the outcome of the process, they just use it to bring uncertainty to those they want to harm because a judicial process can be costly and terrifying," she says.
"The initiative to provide means of contracting specialized judicial defense intends to intervene in this scenario, to protect those who have their freedom of expression threatened," says Gasparian, one of the greatest specialists in freedom of expression in Brazil and one of the founders of the Tornavoz Institute, which is being created this year to finance the judicial defense of people or companies without resources, who have their expression in some way threatened, embarrassed or stunted.
In its first year of operation, the Program's goal is to provide legal assistance to up to six professionals. Priority will be given to freelance journalists and communicators who work outside large urban centers and who do not have the financial support of the outlets for which they work. Professionals who want to sue public authorities are also on the radar, as well as possible cases of strategic litigation.
Regarding journalists who are being legally prosecuted, assistance will be given to those with lawsuits in the first instance, related to the exercise of the profession and before the defendant’s deposition. An example is civil actions that ask for censorship of publications and indemnities for moral damage, as well as criminal processes such as criminal complaints for slander, defamation or injury.
In the case of a journalist suffering from threats or harassment, especially from public authorities in the digital environment, assistance will be given to those in which the aggressions constitute retaliation due to their journalistic work.
Finally, aspects related to the journalist will be analyzed, according to the good practices of the profession and that meet the criteria of lack of financial sufficiency and functional independence of major media. Criteria for a diversity of race and geographic location will also be adopted.
Flow of Assistance
The communicator or journalist who fits the mentioned criteria can submit his/her case to the Program using this form. "We will identify, from the beginning, the cases with greater urgency, especially those that have judicial deadlines to comply with, if the action is already in progress", explains Letícia Kleim, legal advisor at Abraji.
After a detailed analysis, including the request for new information and documents, the Program team will contact the applicant for an interview. The next step will be to evaluate the case together with the Tornavoz Institute team. If he/she is accepted permanently by the Program, a local lawyer will be appointed to proceed with the defense. “We are going to supply the lawyer with specialized arguments about defending the freedom of the press and expression, following up legal documents, and meeting deadlines,” says Kleim.
Contact email: [email protected]
Agreement with the OAB
The cases of online harassment that only need legal guidance will continue to be accepted through the Abraji agreement with the Federal Council of the OAB, which will be part of the Legal Protection Program. Launched in May 2020, the agreement covers journalists who are victims of harassment or threats in the digital environment. On the occasion, a booklet was released explaining the different types of harassment and what to do to address them. The orientation is done after the case is sent and analyzed by Abraji, which can be done by emailing [email protected].
Those involved in the Protection Program
The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism was created 18 years ago by a group of Brazilian journalists interested in exchanging experiences, information, and tips on reporting, mainly investigative. Among its various activities are the organization of congresses, seminars, and workshops to promote the professional development of journalists. Abraji will be responsible for receiving cases, analyzing the candidate's financial condition and journalistic activities, in addition to hiring and guiding a lawyer for each case, monitoring the journalist's defense, and providing support for those assisted in this process.
The international human rights organization Media Defense, based in London, has as its main mission to provide legal support to journalists, activists, and independent media initiatives threatened due to their reporting. They present themselves as the only institution to finance, worldwide, specific cases that put freedom of expression and the press at risk. Media Defense will be responsible for monitoring the project and providing the resources to implement it.
It is an institute in the process of being created, composed of women lawyers, whose objective is (i) to promote and finance the judicial defense of all those (individuals and legal entities) who have their expression in any way threatened, constrained, or stunted, and do not have the economic conditions to hire specialized lawyers, and (ii) train lawyers to work in this segment. In this partnership with Abraji, Tornavoz will be responsible for assessing the legal feasibility of the case, indicating the appropriate legal measure, and providing a list of suggested professionals for each situation.
Federal Council of OAB
The CFOAB Press Freedom Observatory is responsible for providing legal advice to journalists who are victims of online harassment. The cases first pass through Abraji and then through the Observatory's screening, which indicates a professional from one of the 27 sections of the OAB in the country to assist the victim.