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Cablegate: Criticism Causes Brazilian Government to Rethink

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The Lula administration last week proposed
a journalism law that created a stir in the Brazilian press.
The Journalism Council bill would create a national oversight
body with authorities to regulate and discipline the press.
It created such controversy --including charges of
"Stalinism" from some overwrought editorialists-- that
congressional leaders quickly pushed it to the back burner.
The bill may be the fruit of some residual statist tendencies
in the Workers' Party (PT), but it also reflects a GoB
frustration with sensationalism and inaccuracies in the
press. It is probably not coincidental that it was announced
in the middle of two controversies involving questionable
journalistic ethics: the Banestado money-laundering scandal
and a journalist's confession that a 1993 story that led to
the expulsion of a Federal Deputy contained errors. Lula's
advisors may give the journalism bill token support, but it
seems unlikely to come to a vote in Congress this year, if
ever. A second controversial measure, an audiovisual bill to
regulate film and TV, is still being drafted and has not been
sent to Congress. END SUMMARY.

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2. (SBU) Since 1967 and the dictatorship era, Brazil's Labor
Ministry has been nominally responsible for overseeing the
profession of journalism but has done nothing more than
maintain a registry of professional journalists. The
National Journalists Federation (FENAJ) claims to represent
30,000 journalists from 31 unions but does not provide
oversight. (FENAJ is loosely associated with President
Lula's Workers' Party (PT) and most of its directors are PT
members.) The Lula administration saw a gap in this
structure: a lack of legal authority to oversee and regulate
the field. So, with FENAJ's input, the Labor Ministry
drafted a bill to create a Federal Journalism Council (CFJ)
and five subordinate Regional Councils (CRJs). Lula sent the
bill to Congress on August 6, and as soon as the text became
public it sparked controversy. Under the bill's rules,
journalists would have to register and pay dues to the
councils and would elect the councils' members. The councils
would create and enforce an ethics code, oversee the
profession, and discipline journalists. Lula's Press
Secretary, Ricardo Kotscho, noted that the bill is

"negotiable" and was designed to "open the debate". FENAJ
announced that "the CFJ is an essential instrument for the
profession" and would "protect journalists from manipulation"
by private interests.

3. (SBU) Journalists were quick to react. The Brazilian
Press Association (ABI) and the major newspapers railed
against the bill. An editorial in conservative "Estado de
Sao Paulo" called it an "authoritarian offensive" and noted
that the GoB is "showing its dictatorial face". Popular TV
newscaster Boris Casoy called the bill "abominable" and an
"obvious attempt to control journalists and the press". The
international press picked up comments in "Folha de Sao
Paulo" that the bill is "authoritarian" and "Stalinist" and
recalled last May's episode when President Lula threatened to
expel a New York Times reporter for an unflattering article.
The circle of critics eventually expanded to include leading
political and intellectual figures within the PT party and
across the ideological spectrum.

4. (SBU) The bill is now in the Chamber of Deputies, where it
faces a slow march through three committees before going to
the floor. In the unlikely event it passes the Chamber, it
would face a similar trek through the Senate. The PT
Chairman of the Chamber's Labor Committee said he favored the
creation of the Journalism Council if it is done in a
"democratic spirit", adding that national councils already
exist for lawyers and doctors. But Chamber Speaker Joao
Paulo Cunha announced that he will allow a "full debate",
i.e., the bill will move very slowly. Cunha noted that the
administration could have saved itself the trouble, since a
similar bill, sponsored by Deputy Celso Russomanno (PP-SP),
has been pending in the Chamber since 2002.

5. (SBU) The opposition PSDB and PFL parties immediately
pounced. Jose Carlos Aleluia, the PFL's floor leader, could
be seen in Congress last week toting a book with Hitler's
face on the cover. He told the press, "I hope that President
Lula is not taking the same path as Stalin and Hitler. The
bill is a clear demonstration of the authoritarian roots of
the government. The press should oversee the government, and
not vice versa." Aleluia promises to use parliamentary
tactics to block the bill. Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo
Alckmin (PSDB) added, "Sometimes this government has an
authoritarian relapse."

6. (SBU) The administration did not help its own cause when
Lula's Communications Secretary Luiz Gushiken announced that
freedom of the press is "not absolute". This is not the
first time Gushiken has criticized the press: in April he had
to retract a comment that the press ought to be focused on a
"positive agenda" rather than "fomenting discord", and in May
he suggested that the critical New York Times reporter was
working for the US government. Lula's Chief of Staff Jose
Dirceu struck back at critics in remarks before an August 14
PT party gathering, calling opponents "terrorists" seeking to
"limit the debate by shouting". He also slammed this week's
edition of VEJA magazine that has a cover with an ominous PT
party eyeball over the title 'Authoritarian Temptation'.
Dirceu said, "we struggled for democracy against many of
those who are shouting now, including some of these magazines
that openly supported the military dictatorship."

7. (SBU) Two recent cases have brought the issue of
journalistic ethics into focus. The first is the Banestado
scandal, a long-running congressional inquiry into a massive
money-laundering scheme. In recent weeks there has been a
steady stream of leaks --both substantiated and not-- from
confidential banking records collected by the inquiry.

Central Bank President Henrique Meirelles and Bank of Brazil
President Cassio Casseb are among those being tarred by the
press for alleged misdeeds (ref A). Workers' Party and
administration officials have charged that the PSDB Senator
who chairs the inquiry is leaking information for political
ends, and that the press is tacitly complicit by not
verifying the anonymous allegations. In the second case,
this week's "ISTO E" magazine carries a cover story in which
a former reporter admits that an error he made in a 1993
story about corruption wrongly led to the expulsion from
Congress of Federal Deputy Ibsen Pinheiro. Ironically, the
congressional staffer who gave the journalist the false
information was none other than Waldomiro Diniz, who in
February 2004 was fired from his job as a senior political
advisor in Lula's office for soliciting bribes from a numbers
racketeer. This fact fuels opposition claims that in the
past the PT used anonymous leaks to attack political
opponents but now, in power, seeks to stifle the practice.

8. (SBU) Some of Brazil's older journalists remember the
days of self-censorship under the military regime, and they
are quick to condemn government efforts to restrict the
press. Thus, sensitivity to perceived attempts to limit the
press is a healthy part of the consolidation of Brazil's
democracy, even if some of the criticism about the Journalism
bill comes across as a bit hysterical. And the bill is not
necessary. The press here has its strengths and weaknesses,
and there are well-used libel laws to address the latter.
The national papers are reasonably good, represent a range of
editorial perspectives, and have a healthy competition for
readers. Thus there is not a pressing need for a set of
nationwide councils to "orient, discipline, and oversee"

9. (SBU) Even before the formal debate has begun in Congress,
the bill has generated staunch opposition both within the
government coalition and in the opposition parties. It is
unlikely to ever win a congressional majority. Its most
likely fate is to waste away, unmourned, in a committee or to
be pulled out of Congress by the administration for "further
review". Politically, the bill is not worth the grief that
the administration is getting for it, particularly in advance
of October's municipal elections, and when there is good
economic news and Lula's popularity has rebounded (ref B).
The administration is now drafting an Audiovisual bill to
promote domestic film and TV content. The text is not yet
public and has not been sent to Congress, but industry
critics say it also injects government interference into
broadcasting content. Look for this bill to be watered down
considerably if it ever is sent to Congress.

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