Content Regulation / Censorship, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention, Defamation / Reputation
Hegglin v. Google
Closed Expands Expression
Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:
Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.
Israel Dourado Guerra, son of the former Brazilian Federal Government’s Chief of Staff Erenice Guerra, filed suit against Empresa Folha da Manhã S/A, the publisher of the newspaper entitled Folha de S. Paulo, because of twenty-four articles published by this newspaper between 2010 and 2012.
The Federal District and Territories (Brazil) Court of Appeals upheld the first instance decision and denied Israel Dourado Guerra’s pleadings, which required: (a) compensation for pecuniary damages and pain and suffering; (b) publication of a note of a retraction; (c) exclusion of the articles from the newspaper’s digital archive; and (d) an obligation to not publish any further articles.
The son of the former Chief of Staff in the Brazilian Federal Government, Erenice Guerra, sued Empresa Folha da Manhã S/A, claiming that his honor and image were offended in the reports published by Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. These articles, according to the plaintiff, accused him of (i) collecting money to obtain the release of funds before the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES); (ii) nominating three friends for working in for the Chief of Staff during a period in which his mother was executive secretary and the current president Dilma Rousseff was the Chief of Staff – activity which he affirms to be an “lawfull, legitimate and customary” activity; (iii) influencing the circumstances surrounding a meeting involving representatives of a company and the Chief of Staff; and (iv) collecting huge amounts of money to enable the release of funds before the BNDES.
In the action, he requested the removal of the articles, a ban from publishing further reports involving his name, compensation for pain and suffering and pecuniary damages, and finally, the publication of a note of retraction.
Both the first and second instance courts considered that there was no unlawful act committed by the newspaper, given that the son of the former Chief of Staff was a public person at the time of the events and the articles at issue reported true facts, of public interest, and did so without any abuse of press rights and the duty to inform.
Furthermore, in several of the published articles, Israel Dourado Guerra and his lawyer were asked to give their version of the facts, and in one of the reports an interview with the plaintiff was published.
In short, the court understood that the right to inform and the freedom of press should prevail over individual rights, especially in cases involving public figures.
The case was heard by the 4th Civil Panel of the Federal District Court of Appeals, being rapporteur justice Sérgio Rocha, whose opinion was unanimously followed by the other Justices of the panel. In reaching its decision, the Court reiterated that social communication vehicles should only be held accountable for defamation in exceptional situations in which there is abuse of its press rights and duty to inform.
In the case at hand, the Court observed that the newspaper did not engage in any abuse because it only published news related to extremely serious accusations brought by entrepreneurs against the son of the former Federal Government’s Chief of Staff. The Court pointed out that such information should not be prevented from being published by the newspaper, especially as it concern facts of remarkable public interest. The Court also stressed that the newspaper published the plaintiff’s version of the events, which meant that the newspaper gave him the opportunity to express his point of view. Finally, the Court denied the plaintiff’s requests that the articles be retracted and excluded because there were no legal grounds for the civil liability of the newspaper.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The ruling is important because it broadly analyzes the limits of civil liability with respect to social media, and it valued the newspaper’s right to freedom of the press and its right to keep a digital archive of its publications over the son of Chief of Staff’s personal rights.
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.
The judgment sets an important precedent protecting newspapers that report facts of public interest in an objective way. It is also an important precedent concerning the newspaper’s right to keep a digital archive of its articles.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.