Defamation / Reputation, Indecency / Obscenity
Godfrey v. Demon Internet Limited
Closed Mixed Outcome
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Judge Buzzi of the S.T.J. found that Rafael Bastos Hocman, a TV host of a satire show, was guilty of libel after posing in front of an image of the pregnant Wanessa Godoi Camargo Buaiz and stating with a clear sexual connotation that he would “[e]at her and her baby.”
On September 19, 2011, Mr. Bastos – known as ‘Rafinha Bastos’ – was co-hosting the TV program CQC – Custe o que Custar, a satiric comedy show. After a report about Mrs. Camargo’s pregnancy was broadcasted, Mr. Bastos made the sexually explicit statement, “I would eat her and her baby, I do not mind, I do not mind.”
Mrs. Camargo and her husband, Mr. Buaiz, filed a lawsuit against Mr. Bastos for damages resulting from his alleged harmful and malicious speech. The couple added their infant son João Marcos Doutel de Camargo Buaiz as a complainant. The complaint suggested that Mr. Bastos was serious in his sexually explicit comments about Mrs. Camargo. Mr. Bastos allegedly continued to harass the couple on Twitter after hosting CQC.
The lower court found in favor of Mrs. Camargo and her family. Mr. Bastos appealed to the state State Court of São Paulo which denied the appeal. According to the Court, Mr. Bastos abused his Constitutional right to freedom of expression with aggressive language that could not be construed as a joke. The Court found that Mr. Bastos harmed the Plaintiffs’ dignity, violating Articles 1st, III, 5th, IX and X and 220, 2nd Paragraph and 221, I of the Brazilian Federal Constitution.
Mr. Bastos then appealed to the Superior Court of Justice, insisting that he had not caused harm nor intended to cause harm with his actions. He argued that his comments were mere expressions designed to suit the context of CQC. In response, the Plaintiffs cited Mr. Basto’s past similar injunctions. In a previous case, the Association to Protect Disabled Children won an injunction preventing Mr. Bastos from making any comedic commentary about disabled children.
On June 23, 2015, Judge Buzzi delivered the opinion of the S.T.J. The Court found that Mr. Bastos had abused his right to freely express his thoughts. It found that Mr. Basto’s commentary was not simply ironic, satiric, or grotesque humor, but transcended freedom of expression protections and violated the right to dignity of Mrs. Camargo and her family. The Court noted that freedom of expression is not absolute and the preservation of honor can justify limitations on speech.
Based on the decision of the Court of Appeals, Judge Buzzi reaffirmed that Mr. Bastos’s largely publicized comments endangered Mrs. Camargo’s dignity. The Court stated that the sexual intentions of Mr. Bastos were irrelevant and rather found fault in the extremely offensive speech, noting that it fell outside the Court’s definition of a joke. The Court further found the Defendant had made the statements with malice, and accordingly, sustained damages in the amount of BRL 150,000.
Judge Araújo delivered a concurring opinion, stating that, while he agreed that the language was offensive, the damages should be reduced to half the present amount, considering the known satiric nature of CQC. Because of the platform on which the comments were made, Judge Araújo argued that less damage occurred.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
Despite the offensive nature of Mr. Basto’s humor, his comments arguably fell in-line with the typically satiric and offensive humor that CQC is known to provide. However, in Brazil, there is a judicial trend to treat humor, irony, and satire different from other forms of expression. Thus, this case presents a mixed outcome. It suppressed Mr. Basto’s speech through punishment in an effort to protect the right to dignity of the Plaintiffs.
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.
When a journalist or entertainer makes sexually explicit and offensive comments directly targeted at an individual, even in a satiric context, the Court has the ability to find the individual libelous and to award damages.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.