Content Regulation / Censorship
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) v. Mohamed Hamid Salem
In Progress Mixed Outcome
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Judge Wilson Lisbon Ribeiro, from the 7th Civil Court of Osasco in the State of São Paulo, directed SBT to withdraw an interview with Mr. Bispo from its webpage. The Court ordered this due to a breach of an agreement between SBT and Mr. Bispo as well as a violation of a judicial order prohibiting any mention of Mr. Bispo’s criminal lawsuit, in which he was accused of murdering his girlfriend—a crime that had national repercussions.
On February 25, 2014, TVSBT (SBT) aired an interview with Mr. Bispo on the TV newscast “SBT Urgente.” Mr. Bispo was interviewed directly from prison. Several days prior to the broadcast, SBT Urgente advertised the interview as the first time Mr. Bispo would speak since he was imprisoned. The interview was authorized by a criminal judge under the condition that there would be no questions concerning the criminal lawsuit that resulted in Mr. Bispo’s conviction since the lawsuit was under review on appeal. Moreover, Mr. Bispo and SBT agreed upon certain terms: the interview was only to discuss Mr. Bispo’s autobiography, not the crime itself nor the execution of the punishment.
Nevertheless, during the interview, the reporter insisted on asking Mr. Bispo about the crime for which he was convicted at trial. Moreover, the reporter asked about Mr. Bispo’s daily activities and particularities inside the prison, which was also forbidden by the agreement.
Following the interview, Mr. Bispo filed a claim against SBT asking it to withdraw the interview from its webpage, from Youtube, and from other webpages. He also asked for an indemnification of BRL 400,000.00 (roughly 6,000 USD at the time) and a public apology to be published by SBT.
SBT argued that it was not responsible for the content published by webpages like Youtube. Moreover, it argued that the agreements were fully honored because all of the questions involved the facts of the crime, rather than procedural acts, which were prohibited by the agreement. It further argued that even procedural acts could not remain secret once Mr. Bispo’s trial was broadcasted live. Finally, it argued that the interview concerned the public interest, and accordingly, SBT was free to broadcast the interview under Articles 4, 5, 9, 16, and 220 of the Brazilian Constitution.
Judge Ribeiro accepted SBT’s preliminary arguments, and excluded SBT of any liability for the publishing of the interview by Youtube and other websites.
On the merits, Judge Ribeiro considered that the settlement was violated several times by reporter’s inquiries: not only inquiries about the criminal lawsuit, but also about Mr. Bispo’s daily activities and the prison’s conditions. Therefore, Judge Ribeiro mandated that SBT withdraw the interview from its webpage.
Despite these findings, Judge Ribeiro found no justification for the indemnity Mr. Bispo claimed because the interview was merely informative and the reporter had not expressed any criticism or opinion about facts of the crime. Moreover, there was no harm to Mr. Bispo’s reputation, image, or honor. To the contrary, the reporter was very polite and respectful. Judge Ribeiro further noted that the trial was exhaustively broadcasted and that people had a right to know about the continuity of the trial. The public status of Mr. Bispo was the result of the crime itself, which had national repercussions. Thus, it was impossible to interview Mr. Bispo about his biography without addressing the crime.
Finally, Judge Ribeiro decided that, because there was no abusive conduct or actual damages, the claim for apologies should be denied.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The Court agreed that the interview disrespected an agreement, which would justify the interview’s mandatory removal from Defendant’s webpage. This put the settlement on a higher level than the freedom of information and of the press. On the other hand, the Court found that no harm to Mr. Bispo’s honor, image, or reputation occurred, denying the high indemnity Mr. Bispo claimed, which could be interpreted as a type of collateral censorship.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
This case is peculiar because it concerns a settlement involving a broadcaster and an imprisoned interviewed person. The Court found that what was contracted for took priority over the freedom of information or of the press.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.