PDT v. President of Republic and National Congress

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    April 30, 2009
  • Outcome
    Law or Action Overturned or Deemed Unconstitutional
  • Case Number
    ADPF 130
  • Region & Country
    Brazil, Latin-America and Caribbean
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship
  • Tags
    Censorship, Prior Restraints, Self-Regulation, Content-Based Restriction

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

In 2009, Brazil’s Press Act, issued in 1967 under the governance of a military dictatorship, was found to be incompatible with the precepts of the Brazilian Constitution, which was written in 1988 after Brazil had become a democracy, and was therefore nullified.


Facts

The Democratic Labour Party (PDT) filed a complaint with Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court, alleging that Law No. 5250 (the Press Act) breached a fundamental precept of the Brazilian Constitution. The Press Act had been enacted in 1967 while Brazil was under the rule of a military regime, and PDT argued that it did not reflect the current Constitution, which had been enacted in 1988 after Brazil had become a democratic state. PDT sought to obtain an order recognizing the incompatibility of the Press Act with the Constitution.


Decision Overview

The Supreme Federal Court of Brazil, in a session held with all its members, declared that the Press Act, as a whole, was not received by the Constitution and ruled that the freedoms of thought, creation, expression, information, and press, as established by the Constitution, do not admit any restriction and are not submitted to any other restraints other than the ones present in the Constitution itself.

The Court also concluded that the Constitution prohibits any restrictions on the freedom of thought and to the free circulation of news and information, so that the right to reply and the system of liabilities in civil, penal, and administrative instances are to be guaranteed only as consequences to the exercise of these rights. The Court further determined that any compensation due as a result of the exercise of the right to freedom of the press is required to be proportional with the offense and with the concrete situation of the victim in order to prevent the payment of compensation from becoming a form of censorship. The affordability rule is to be applied with more vigor to public agents who, due to their activity, are subjected to broad publicity of their acts.

The Court ruled that there is a relationship of mutual dependence between freedom of the press and democracy. Therefore, the pluralism that characterizes democratic regimes must be guaranteed to the press. Critics are benefited with the same guarantees as thoughts and information, since the press operates as a natural instance for the construction of public opinion and as an alternative for the official version of facts.

The Court held that any form of censorship is prohibited and found that the state can only legislate on the matter of the press laterally, observing the subjects established in the Constitution itself, such as the right to reply and of compensation, proportional with the offense, the protection of the source, and the liability due to defamation, among others.


Decision Direction

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Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The decision in this case by the Supreme Federal Court created an important milestone in the history of freedom of speech in Brazil.  By declaring the Press Act to be unconstitutional, the Court affirmed that the Constitution provides for unbridled freedoms of thought, creation, speech, information, and press and that these freedoms are not subject to any provisions other than those under the Constitution itself.

According to the decision, Brazil’s constitutional framework rules out any kind of limitation to the freedom of thought and to the free circulation of news and information in order to better allow the freedom of speech to be full and unrestrained. However, in the event of a violation of privacy and honor (libel and slander), the issue would be resolved a posteriori through civil and criminal liability.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Related International and/or regional laws

  • OAS, Chapultepec Declaration (03/11/1994)
  • European Communities Act (1972)
  • ECtHR, Handyside v. United Kingdom, App. No. 5493/72 (1976)

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Braz., Law 5250 (Press Act) (1967)
  • Braz., Constituição Federal art. 220

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.S., Const. art. 1
  • U.S., Const. amend. I
  • U.S., VA Const., Bill of Rights art. 12
  • U.S., NH Const., Bill of Rights art. XII
  • U.S., SC Const., Bill of Rights art. XLIII
  • U.S., DE Const., Bill of Rights art. 1(5)
  • U.S., PA Const., Bill of Rights art. XII
  • U.S., MD Const., Bill of Rights art. XXXVIII
  • U.S., GA Const., Bill of Rights art. IV (3)
  • U.S., MA Const., Bill of Rights art. XVI
  • U.S., Patterson v. Colorado, 205 U.S. 454 (1907)
  • U.S., Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919)
  • U.S., Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927)
  • U.S., United States v. Williams, 553 U.S. 285 (2008)
  • U.S., N.Y. Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964)
  • U.S., Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919)
  • U.S., Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003)
  • U.S., Pierce v. United States, 252 U.S. 239 (1920)
  • U.S., Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925)
  • U.S., Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75 (1966)
  • U.S., Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967)
  • U.S., Associated Press v. Walker, 388 U.S. 130 (1967)
  • U.S., Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc., 403 U.S. 29 (1971)
  • Port., Const. art. 3(1)
  • Port., Const. art. 18 (3)
  • Port., Const. art. 24
  • Port., Const. art. 25
  • Port., Const. art. 26
  • Port. Const. art. 27
  • Port., Const. art. 38
  • Port., Law 32/2003 art. 3
  • Port., Law 32/2003 art. 15
  • Port., Law 32/2003 art. 16
  • Port., Law 32/2003 art. 17
  • Port., Law 32/2003 art. 33
  • Port., Law 4/2001
  • Ger., Basic Law art. 1(1)
  • Ger., Basic Law art. 2(1)
  • Ger., Basic Law art. 5(1)
  • Ger., Basic Law art. 5(3)
  • Ger., Basic Law art. 14
  • Ger., Basic Law art. 103(1)
  • Ger., Press Act art. 1
  • Ger., Press Act art. 4
  • Ger., Press Act art. 6
  • Ger., Press Act art. 7
  • Ger., Press Act art. 8
  • Ger., Press Act art. 9
  • Ger., Press Act art. 11
  • Ger., Press Act art. 12
  • Ger., Press Act art. 13
  • Ger., Interstate Treatise for Broadcasting and Television art. 3 (1991)
  • Ger., Interstate Treatise for Broadcasting and Television art. 4 (1991)
  • Ger., Interstate Treatise for Broadcasting and Television art. 7 (1991)
  • Ger., Interstate Treatise for Broadcasting and Television art. 14 (1991)
  • Ger., Interstate Treatise for Broadcasting and Television art. 17 (1991)
  • Ger., Interstate Treatise for Broadcasting and Television art. 24 (1991)
  • Ger., Interstate Treatise for Broadcasting and Television art. 41 (1991)
  • Ger., Interstate Treatise for Broadcasting and Television art. 47 (1991)
  • Ger., Interstate Treatise for Broadcasting and Television art. 49 (1991)
  • Ger., Interstate Treatise for Broadcasting and Television art. 56 (1991)
  • Ger., Lüth, BVerfGE 7, 198 (1958)
  • Ger., Spiegel, BVerfGE 20, 62 (1966)
  • Ger., Schmid-Spiegel, BVerfGE 12, 113 (1961)
  • Ger., Blinkfüer, BVerfGE 25, 256 (1969)
  • Ger., Solidaritätsadrese, BVerfGE 44, 197 (1977)
  • Ger., Lebach, BVerfGE 35, 202 (1973)
  • Spain, Const. art. 20
  • Spain, Const. art. 53(1)
  • Spain, Press Act (1938)
  • Spain, Law 14/1966 art. 2
  • Spain, Decree-Law of April 1, 1977
  • Spain, Organic Law 2/1984 art. 1
  • Spain, Organic Law 2/1997
  • Spain, Law 11/1998
  • Spain, Law 10/2005
  • Spain, STC 6/1981
  • Spain, STC 12/1982
  • Spain, STC 171/1990
  • Spain, STC 104/1986
  • Mex., Constitution, art. 6
  • Mex., C.P. Article 7
  • Mex., Press Act art. 27 (1917)
  • Mex., Radio and Television Act (1960)
  • Mex., Radio and Television Act (1995)
  • U.K., Telecommunication Act (1981)
  • U.K., Broadcasting Act (1990)
  • U.K., Defamation Act (1996)
  • Fr., Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789)
  • Fr., Press Act art. 5 (1881)
  • Fr., Press Act art. 6 (1881)
  • Fr., Press Act art. 7 (1881)
  • Fr., Press Act art. 39 (1881)
  • Fr., Press Act art. 48 (1881)
  • Fr., Freedom of Communication Act art. 6 (1986)
  • Chile, Law 19733/2001 art. 1
  • Chile, Law 19733/2001 art. 3
  • Chile, Law 19733/2001 art. 16
  • Chile, Law 19733/2001 art. 31
  • Chile, Law 19733/2001 art. 33
  • Peru, Law 26937 art.1
  • Peru, Law 26937 art. 3
  • Uru., Law 16099 art. 1
  • Uru., Law 16099 art. 2
  • Uru., Law 16099 art. 3
  • Uru., Law 16099 art. 19
  • Uru., Law 16099 art. 21

Case Significance

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