Index: By defending the idea of controlling of literary works, such as biographies, wouldn’t some Brazilian artists be executing the role of a censor?
Ruffato: This is a paradoxical subject, because these artists live from the public image they built. People do not buy only a song or a film, people also buy the exposition of this artist. And the moment he becomes a public figure he is no longer a private figure. If this person is no longer a private figure, it is possible that he may have his own life scrutinised. I do not see any problem with that. I think anyone can manage their own life the way they feel like. Whoever wants to write a biography about me can keep calm. They will find absolutely nothing that may dishonour my image. But if they did find something, it would be okay, because I am exposing myself, I am living off that, I am somehow using my public image to make money. Therefore I think that when you move into this public world, you must be aware of that.
I believe it is everyone’s right to know who the people that make the history of their country are, and the artists also make the history of a country — with or without a political standpoint, he is contributing or not contributing to thinking about the country. Therefore I believe it is perfectly reasonable that you know who this person is. That is why I am a little bit shocked, because we must defend freedom under any circumstance; and it is not relative freedom, freedom for me is a universal concept.The freedom we have here appears more like a relative freedom.
We are living a very strange period in Brazil, a moment when the issue of intolerance is really present. This is very curious because we had a military dictatorship, we have a political history of intolerance. And it shocks me that in the exact moment when we are exercising the biggest continued period of democracy, we are at the same time living a moment of absolute intolerance. It is not just a matter of biographies. Politically, any criticism of your actions immediately positions you within a certain ideological bias. It is a binary judgment; it is yes or no. Moreover, life is not yes or no, life is often made up of maybes, and that is why I am shocked because this positioning of intolerance does not take us to a good place.
Index: Where do you notice this type of intolerance?
Ruffato: This intolerance occurs at all levels. For example, in the virtual world. It is the place of intolerant practices, because there people exercise their prejudices and their authoritarian world views, I am shocked, it is absurd.
This positioning against the biographies I think is a bias of intolerance, an authoritarian bias. It is as if you are being placed in specific niches all the time, and I refuse to do that. I try to exercise the freedom that fits me by never having truths — not imposing truths. I defend relative truths. As well as believing that freedom is absolute, I believe truth must be relative. There is only absolute freedom where truths are relative. Where there is absolute truth there is no freedom.
In Brazil, we have a very childish thing, something that children also have , that is of closing our eyes and pretending things have disappeared. I think we have this in our society, you know? It is as if we closed our eyes and that problem did not exist anymore. We have never stopped to discuss our political history, which is a history of dictatorships. For example, the end of the Brazilian dictatorship did not happen because there was a revolution: it was an agreement between the politicians and the military that included a wide amnesty, general and unrestricted. In other words, nobody killed nobody, nobody did anything to anyone, let us play forward. Obviously, this deeply marks our society. We are an extremely authoritarian and intolerant society.
We are xenophobic, we are racists, we are sexists, we are homophobic, and this shines well on the internet. And we are hypocrites as well. We are not a bit cordial. We kill: domestic violence in Brazil is among the highest in the world, and this happens inside our homes; urban violence in Brazil is among the highest in the world. No, we are not a bit cordial. We are only cordial when people agree with us. When somebody disagrees with us, our reaction is extremely violent. But the Brazilian does not disagree in front of the person. We are used to give a pat on the back and, when the person leaves, we stick the knife in their back. Nobody admits that they do it. People do things, or do not do things, and do not have the guts to tell you. We do not have the culture of divergence, of debate. When we diverge, we always react in a hidden way, because disagreement is something unacceptable, it is terrible.
Index: If the biographies’s law is approved in the senate, we will have, really, more freedom to publish books about people?
Ruffato: This is another problem. I think that where there is an excess of laws, they are meant to be circumvented. The less laws there are, the better, because then you know where you are going. Brazil is a country of lawyers, so you must make many laws so they contradict each other and have loopholes. Particularly, I assume that the biographer is a decent person, that he is an intellectually honest person. Therefore, when an author writes a biography, he will face the biographee as a fallible and susceptible to making wrong decisions human being. The author should have a very well grounded and contextualized story he is telling. If the author is not an honest, decent person, and if the biographee’s family feel somehow offended by the work, then I think it is absolutely correct that they bring an appeal or a lawsuit to force the author to confirm, correct or retract what was written. This is within the norm. We have to protect the biographee, this is indisputable. I think we have to have a legislation that protects the biographee, but that protects him from libel, slander and infamy, not from writing things that were factual and occurred. Because otherwise we will fall into a very curious situation. For example, an author who wants to tell the life story of a president would have to have the subject or his family authorise the biography: what kind of history will we tell? It is a government biography.
So, how will we tell the history of Brazil? A history where the ills of Brazil cannot be told? A history, for example, where there is no extermination of indigenous. So we run a very serious risk of failing to tell a more decent history, with its contradictions, because history is also not a truth, but it is a narrative, and biographies also help to compose these narratives. I think this is very dangerous.
Our laws are made to be circumvented and are not clear. I think that this [biographies’ law] should not be an issue. They exist, people live, and some people have importance beyond a moment. So, I think that that should not even be a matter of discussion. But as it is, I do not keep calm, things can end up taking an unexpected turn into intolerance. There will always be gaps because the laws are not clear. And it’s a huge pretension for someone to want to take care of their image as if it was something personal, of their own. It is so stupid! You may describe your father, and each sibling will tell the story a different way, no one will even have the same father or mother. It is a silly idea to think that someone can have an authorised biography because that biography tells “the truth”. I am very afraid of societies that have truths. I do not trust them, because a society that has absolute truths must be very sick, there is something very wrong with it.
Index: Have you ever faced any kind of censorship in Brazil?
Ruffato: The book Eles Eram Muitos Cavalos (2001) was adopted in a university of Minas Gerais admission test and later on was “unadopted”. Because the admissions test was of a religious institution, they claimed that there was too much bad language in the book. Yes, the book has some profanity, but they are in a context. There is no curse word just for the sake of being a curse word. It was the only episode about it. And if there was some problem of constraint in a work of mine, I would keep writing anyway. I write for my readers, not to please anyone.
Index: If you could write a biography today, within this context of censorship? Who would?
Ruffato: I would like to do a biography, yes, but of a person who probably will not cause any problems, someone who has been very biographed, which is Machado de Assis. Just to change the focus, there are already many biographies of him. My theory is that he would not have written what he wrote had he not been who he was. He was a person who had a look from the bottom up. It was this gaze that I think determines the type of literature that he wrote. But I’m very interested in writing a fake biography. When you tell someone else’s story, you are telling your own story, as psychoanalysis says. I want to radicalize it, though, creating a character whose biography I would write. It is not a novel. It is a fake biography, in which I would tell the story of the character with many witnesses, with hundreds of interviews, many documents read, but it was all fake. Maybe I get to be sued: it would be an authorized biography “unauthorized”.
Journalist and historian Paulo César de Araújo, author of Roberto Carlos em Detalhes, was sued by the subject of his book. (Photo: Companhia das Letras)
Writing books and making movies about public figures without the need for prior authorisation is close to becoming a reality in Brazil. Until now, Article 20 of the Brazilian Civil Code (Law 10.406/2002) stated that: “The dissemination of writings, the transmission of the word, or the publication, display or use of the image of a person may be forbidden if it affects the honour, the good reputation or respectability, or if it is intended for commercial purposes”. Writing biographies in Brazil today is only possible with permission from the subject or their relatives. Fail to secure this, and the book in question could be banned; the same goes for documentaries, plays and films.
Last April, an important step was taken to end the censorship of unauthorised biographies and use of images of public figures. The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, passed bill 393/2011. The so called “biographies’ law” allows the disclosure of biographical information of a person in the public eye without prior authorisation. The law changes the wording of Article 20, guaranteeing access to biographical information about individuals whose actions are of interest to the public.
According to the bill’s author, representative Newton Lima Neto of the Worker’s Party, the original article hurt the Brazilian constitution by establishing a system of prior censorship. “It talks about the need to remove the legal remnants of censorship and avoid the curtailment to the right to information, after years of dictatorship,” he says of the proposed new legislation.
The bill’s path to congress has not been smooth. In 2013, the issue reached the Supreme Federal Court (STF), the highest level of the Brazilian justice system. Minister Cármen Lúcia held a hearing to discuss the Direct Proceeding of Unconstitutionality 4815, a 2012 legal challenge brought by the National Association of Books Publishers (ANEL). This questioned Articles 20 and 21 of the civil code, claiming they were “incompatible with the freedom of expression and information”. It asked the Supreme Court to interpret the publication of biographies in accordance with the constitution, which ensures the right to freedom of expression and thought. Following the hearing the issue was to be assessed in congress, paving the way for the biographies’ law.
However, there are artists who do not support the adoption of the biographies’ law — as is the case with Grupo Procure Saber, which consists of internationally famous singers such as Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento and Roberto Carlos (known as O Reior The King). The latter has left the group, but was involved in a noisy lawsuit against the author of an unauthorised biography of him, which Carlos argued this was to preserve his privacy.
The ban on biographies seems to be directly linked to the commercial issue of copyright. Referring to a proposal from Procure Saber for the subjects of biographies to get a share of the profits from book sales, Newton Lima told UOL News the group were “mixing the theme of freedom of expression, right to information, freedom of artistic creation, with the subject of copyrights”.
In 2006, Roberto Carlos sued journalist and historian Paulo César de Araújo, author of Roberto Carlos em Detalhes. There was a plea deal, but Carlos demanded that 11,000 copies were retracted from stores and for Araújo to be arrested. “He treated me like a criminal just because I did my job,” Araújo told the newspaper A Tarde. Speaking to Globonews Network, the writer revealed that Roberto Carlos’ first intention was to burn the books. “Today, he gave up, but the books are saved by security guards in his house,” he said. In another recent interview with TV Brasil, Araújo commented that Roberto Carlos sees his life story as private heritage. “Just as he has a car, he has his history'”, and he believes that writing about this history is like invading his property. With the agreement, the request for an indemnity and the accusation of wrongdoing against Carlos’ honour were withdrawn, and the case closed.
On 15 May this year, Carlos filed a petition to the Supreme Court to take part in the process of discussing publication of unauthorised biographies. The musician created the Instituto Amigo, to participate in the case as an amicus curiae. He went to court against the aforementioned challenge brought by ANEL. He stated, through his institute, that the changes in the biographies’ law “would hinder the right to repair damage to the honour and image” of subjects, and advocated “the prevalence to the right of privacy above the freedom of information”.
“It is an absurd moment in Brazil, where the constitution guarantees freedom, but we need to be careful,” Araújo said in an interview with Gaúcha Radio. “He [Carlos] did not read the book. He should read the book, because his history was built by thousands of Brazilians. If he had read, he would never sue me. But his lawyers wanted to earn money with the action.” Carlos’ defence team is led by Brazil’s most famous lawyer, Antônio Carlos de Almeida Castro — “Kakay” — who also defended culprits in the Mensalão corruption scandal, and is very sought after by politicians.
Araújo has written another book about Roberto Carlos/ O Réu e o Rei (The Accused and the King) talks about the lawsuit and has new information on the singer. It is in fact an unauthorised biography of the unauthorised biography. The book was launched on 22 May, but without an advertising campaign — “to avoid retaliations,” according to Araújo. “We await now that the senate can continue the progress of the biographies’ law,” the author wrote in his blog. The musician, meanwhile, has assured the press he will not sue Araújo again.
But biographical books are not the only censored material in Brazil. Di Glauber, a film about the life of Brazilian artist Di Cavalcanti has been banned for 34 year for violating Article 20. The film was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival, and is considered one of the masterpieces of Brazilian and world cinema. The family of the painter had the biopic barred in Brazil. Family members have also put a stop to already written biographies about football players Garrincha and Pelé and singer Vinicius de Moraes, among others.
Lawsuits, copyrights, privacy, intimacy, what is really at stake? For journalist Daniel Feix, whose biography about the gaucho actor and singer Teixeirinha was banned, this is a matter of knowing how to live with freedom of expression and the free flow of information: “We still need to evolve in the way how we deal with the freedom of expression. We need to live better with the contradictory and take more responsibility in publishing information. The fact that we are a country that had our freedom cut for a long period in our history is charging a high price. We need to evolve the way we deal with freedom in every way.”
According to Feix, Brazil is a conservative and prejudiced country, but the approval of the biographies’ law is “an important step to bring the country to a higher stage in how people deal with freedom”.
“We are living in a very strange period in Brazil, where the absolute intolerance is increasingly present,” says award-winning writer Luiz Ruffato in an interview with Index. “It’s not just a matter of biographies,” he says. “I think that talking about biographies should not even be a topic of discussion in a free country.”
Another common theme among Brazilian writers is the confusion that exists between public and private. Journalist Eduardo Bueno “Peninha” is emphatic: “It is obvious, evident, screaming that biographies of public figures should be as public as the subjects are. Freedom for the biographies now!”
Peninha, author of an authorised biography, as well as a collection of books on the history of Brazil that has sold over 1 million copies, says there is no more privacy today: “After the revelations of Edward Snowden, and electronic espionage of the United States over the whole world, including the president of Brazil, where did privacy go to? It’s gone to the dogs now!”
The National Union of Books Publishers (SNEL) said it is pleased with the pressure on congress to approve the biographies’ law. The union’s President Sônia Machado Jardim, said that “the need for prior authorisation to publish biographies was a remnant of the dictatorship, unjustifiable in a democratic regime”. According to her, the law will protect the right to privacy, intimacy and honour, while ensuring access to information about notable figures in the history of Brazil and its culture, as envisaged in the constitution. “As the person becomes public, their history is intertwined with the country’s history; but when there are any restrictions on the publication of the stories of these personalities, the preservation of the history is lost. The matter is much bigger [than biographies]. It is to ensure knowledge of the history of Brazil for future generations,” she emphasises.
If approved by the senate, the biographies’ law or PLC42/2014, will go to President Dilma Rousseff for approval and enter into force on the date of its publication in the Diário Oficial da União. But there is an insidious comma in this story.
A last-minute amendment was added to the law when approved by the Chamber of Deputies. Representative Ronaldo Caiado (Democrats/DEM), added a third paragraph to Article 20, establishing that “the person who feels affected in their honour, good reputation or respectability” may request the section offensive to him or her to be excluded in future reproductions of the work.
The amendment does not prohibit works, sanction the arrest of writers or the seizure of books, as happened in the Roberto Carlos case. But rather than a prior censorship, this paragraph might allow public figures to censor excerpts in future editions of previously published works. “This might make the censorship more visible than ever”, wrote columnist Julio Maria to the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo. “The previous censorship that exists today will turn into a posthumous censorship if the senate does not scrutinise the issue and get it out of this twilight zone.”
“We need to find a balance”, explained Caiado, in a public hearing in the Supreme Court in 2013, arguing that his amendment refers only to the exclusion of libellous, defamatory and untrue excerpts. In 2005, this same representative sued writer and journalist Fernando Morais over a sentence uttered by a source in his book A Toca dos Leões. The writer was ordered to pay £380,000 in compensation for moral damages.
The amendment was added discreetly, but could have a significant impact on the state of free expression in Brazil. As a Croatian media lawyer, quoted in the European Mapping Media Freedom project, points out, “these kinds of laws exist across the world, especially under the guise of protecting against insult. The problem, however, is that often such laws exist for the benefit of politicians and powerful. And when they are even more general, they can be very easily manipulated by those in positions of power to shut down and punish criticism”.
It will now be up to the senate to untie the impasse of the biographies’ law, before a form of censorship is legalised in Brazil just as another is eradicated.
The federal prosecutors from the MPF asked Google Brazil to remove the videos. But Google refused, arguing that the material disclosed “would be nothing more than the manifestation of the religious freedom of the Brazilian people” and that the videos “did not violate the company’s policy”.
On 17 May, the issue was taken to the federal court in Rio de Janeiro. There, judge Eugenio Rosa de Araújo denied the request for the removal of the videos. “Its contents are manifestations of free expression of opinion,” he stated. He argued that “the African-Brazilian religious practices do not constitute a religion” because “the religious manifestations (African) do not contain necessary traits of a religion”. He stated that a religion needs to have traits such as a baseline text (“as the Bible or the Koran”), a hierarchical structure and one God to be worshiped.
Notably, the ruling has two parts: the first determines that the videos are to be kept online, and is based on the right to freedom of expression. In the second part of the sentence, the judge defines what religion is, and excludes religions with African-Brazilian origin from this scope.
The representative of the Commission Against Religious Intolerance, Ivanir dos Santos, accused the judge of encouraging prejudice. “He is an employee of a laic State and is submitted to the Brazilian constitution and laws. He violated the constitution and the law against the racial discrimination.”
Facing such strong reaction, the judge Eugenio de Araujo Rosa went back on his decision. In a statement, he admitted he made a mistake and revised his sentence. “The strong support of the media and civil society demonstrates unquestionably the belief in the worship of such religions,” he said, referring to African-Brazilian beliefs.
But the original position of the judge is still causing reactions. The Order of Lawyers of Brazil repudiated the ruling, while the MPF has filed an appeal, arguing that “the decision mistreats the awareness, the honour and the dignity of millions of Brazilians who recognise themselves in these religions”. Protests by African-Brazilian culture organisations were held in at least seven cities. Leaders of all Brazilian beliefs gathered at Maracanã Stadium, calling for more peace and religious tolerance.
In addition, representatives from the MPF will file a lawsuit to the Superior Court of Justice (STJ), one of the highest organisations in the Brazilian judiciary system, against Judge Eugênio Rosa de Araújo. “Our intention is to remove the videos. It is not about freedom of expression, but about the spread of hatred,” said Santos.
On 28 May, the Federal Regional Court (TRF) received a petition with 1,000 signatures, demanding the removal of the videos. The petition was organised by the Commission Against Religious Intolerance and the National Association of African Media. The representatives of the afro culture argue the court’s decision to keep the videos on the internet violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 129 of the Brazilian Constitution, and the Statute of Racial Equality (Law 12.288/2010). The statute stipulates that the government must protect the communities of African origin from hateful content in the media. The law forbids “the use of the media to disseminate images and contents that expose a person or group to hatred or contempt on the grounds of religion with African roots”.
FuA national demonstration against prejudice towards African-Brazilian religions has been scheduled. The event is organised by various associations for the defence of black culture, with the support of the Order of Lawyers of Brazil, the National Council of Justice (CNJ), the Human Rights Commission of Congress national and the Organization of American States (OAS). In congress, the Parliamentary Front in Defence of “Traditional Peoples of Terreiro” was created, aiming to institutionalise the defence of religions of African origin. The bloc will be a counterpoint to the Evangelical Parliamentary Front, which brings together 77 congressmen who form the base of support for the government of Dilma Rousseff.
“The theme is of utmost importance, because [it] involves guarantees which the constitution itself assures. I hope that it resolves itself quickly,” the President of the Federal Court, Sérgio Schwaitzer, told the Jornal do Brasil.
According Edson Santos, the deputy of PT (Workers Party) and former minister of racial equality, the judge encouraged the prejudice against African-Brazilian sects. He argued that the magistrate will be denounced at the National Council of Justice. “The decision was absurd and deeply regrettable, because it hurts the constitution”, he told to the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.
“This conflict of law is challenging and raises questions about the limits of freedom of expression,” said Professor of Philosophy of Law José Rodrigo Rodriguez, of Law School of São Paulo from the Fundação Getúlio Vargas. Analysing the topic in an article, he argues that “one can say, without fear of any excess, that the decision has a clear discriminatory effect, despite the certainly good intention of the judge”.
The Brazilian press is “partially free”, according a study made by Freedom House published on 1 May. The study considered the deaths of three journalists in 2013, the attacks on the work of the press in June’s protests, the lawsuits against bloggers and internet companies and a large number of government requests to remove online content. Brazil scored a 45 — on a scale of zero to one hundred, zero being the best scenario.
The attacks and violence are only one side of the threats to press freedom in Brazil. Communication monopolies standardise the views and concentrate the budget and the audience. The leader is Globo Network, which owns more than half of the television advertising market. The concentration of the media and the intimacy of their owners with powerful politicians is identified by Freedom House as “one of the biggest obstacles to media diversity in Brazil”.
Televisions and radios are government grants, and although the law prohibits monopoly, this is a game of power advantageous for both businesses and the government. There are also congressmen who own or control media. Both sides reinforce each other, forming lobbies to protect their fiefdoms’s of versions and truths. Any proposal on communication democratization or regulation is shouted down by these lobbies as an attack on freedom of expression or an attempt at censorship. The Brazilian Telecommunications Code is 50 years old and a target of campaigns of freedom of expression entities.
However, there is not a declared censorship. All the guarantees of freedom of press and information are established in the Constitution and in various laws. What happens is that press freedom in Brazil is fundamentally compromised by political and state interests and private sponsorships, which finance the media. Thus, it is not a lack freedom, but a lack of autonomy.
Since June 2013, hundreds of protests have been shaking Brazil. During many of them, protesters burned cars belonging to the press. What does this mean? The level of dissatisfaction and resentment is palpable. There’s a heartache that turned against “everything-that-is-there”, including how the media covers the facts. The roles of the press and government is being questioned in the streets. Nevertheless, the sound of these voices is muffled in the media.
With the FIFA World Cup, the exacerbated patriotism and the green and yellow colors have taken control over television commercials, selling an artificial enthusiasm. Advertisers such as private banks, state companies, operators of credit cards, the soft drink industry, beers and cars have invested over £350 million for ads on only one station–Rede Globo, the country’s largest. Each advertiser is spending £1.4 million on advertising per day, the equivalent to a daily Super Bowl.
The largest communication network in Brazil has exclusive rights to broadcast the matches and has the official sponsorship of FIFA. Throughout the day, and especially between 8:30PM and 10PM –“the Brazilian primetime TV” –viewers see an exciting commercial film seeking to promote the acceptance of the FIFA World Cup. With the slogan “Somos um só” (“We are all one”), the advertisement shows how television “has the magic to put the entire country on the same vibe”.
The numbers are even more exciting. Only 30 seconds of a primetime ad cost £168,000. There is still the merchandising: the company is the only one licensed to sell FIFA products. About 1,700 items should yield £534 million to the broadcaster. Such numbers do not harmonise with autonomy of content.
Dozens of federal government announcements are also aired on television. One, for example, announces a rich country, with full employment and a promising future. A country with no inflation, social problems or misery-−”A rich country is a country without poverty”, says the slogan, ignoring the economic crisis, electric blackouts, water shortages and strikes. Petrobras ads claim a solid company, with smiling workers, while in practice the company applies a plan of voluntary dismissals and responds to an investigation into allegations of kickbacks.
With an expenditure of £614 million for ads, the federal government was the fourth largest advertiser in media last year; 65% of the total was invested in TV, according to the Department of Communication of the Presidency. The agenda is to suppress the resentment of the people with a shower of advertising. “We love football and are proud to organize the Cup of the Cups. Therefore, all who come to Brazil will be welcomed and will know a multicultural country, with happy and hardworking people”, said President Dilma Rousseff.
Despite the inundation of propaganda, a survey conducted by the Senate in late April found that 76% of the respondents consider that the expenditure on stadiums are larger than necessary; 86% believe that public funds earmarked for the event would have better use in other areas such as health, education and public safety. 42% of the respondents approve of the event, while 40% disapprove – a technical draw. The margin of sampling error is 3.5 percentage points, plus or minus. The research was not even mentioned in the press.
It can be said that freedom of the press in Brazil at this time is restricted. To talk about protests against the World Cup, a journalist must assume a mild tone to avoid displeasing sponsors. Journalists must also prevent the increasing antipathy to the World Cup, which would bring monumental financial losses. The possibility of withdrawn sponsorships generates a cold feeling for the broadcasters and FIFA.
The ball of Brazil is already rolling and it remains unclear what the outcome of this game will be. In the run up to the opening of the World Cup, workers strikes and protests are on the increase in the country. Journalists do not know what people want, but they listen to experts, the police, and the rulers.
Is the Brazilian press partial in the officialism that privileges the voices of the government and the market in exchange for financial benefits, affable policy and high profits?