Much more than freedom of expression



Conversations that reporters had with their sources and decided not to make public should be protected, not exposed by the courts

Last week it happened again. A small incident has shown, once again, that Brazilian political and legal culture still do not fully understand the substance of freedom of the press. This time, the episode took place within the scope of the Federal Supreme Court (STF).

The dispatch in which Minister Alexandre de Moraes asked journalistic companies to deliver the full audio of interviews given by Senator Marcos do Val (Podemos-ES) stumbled upon a revealing initial hesitation, which should serve as a warning. As widely reported, the first version of the court order established a fine for those who did not comply with it and – even more worrisome – it did not make it clear whether the magistrate required the presentation of all conversations recorded with the senator or only those that had actually been published by the organs. of press.

Then, in a beneficial course correction, things were straightened out: in addition to withdrawing the fine forecast, the minister explained that he was referring only to the contents, in his terms, “already published”. It got better that way. It was right, as it should be. Marcos Do Val, you know, is the one who has been talking about coup proposals that he would have heard from the one who was President of the Republic until last year. The complaint needs to be investigated, of course.

The problem is that, in scattered and diverse statements, the parliamentarian gave different versions of the presidential speeches he would have witnessed. Faced with inconsistencies, the Supreme Court is right to try to gather all possible pronouncements in an attempt to reconstitute the factual truth. Effort is necessary and welcome. In this regard, it is necessary to register the indisputable merit of the STF in containing the nefarious, although “smoking”, attempts at a coup d'état. In this institutional work – which proved to be decisive in guaranteeing the stability of democracy – Minister Moraes occupied and still occupies a place of honor. Therefore, there is no attack here on the conduct of the members of the Federal Supreme Court.

The episode in question, however, reveals a fundamental problem: when it comes to freedom of the press, power, unfortunately, hesitates, hesitates, letting it be seen that it does not know what it should protect with rational firmness. There are countless cases. There are, fresh in my memory, censorship measures that had to be reversed – thankfully – at the drop of a hat.

We are a society that has not fully understood that freedom of the press is much, much more than just freedom of expression. Indeed, journalism promotes the free circulation of ideas, which is a right of all people. Yes, the press is a specialized form of free speech. But its substance is greater than mere freedom of expression. In order to be carried out as a social practice, journalistic activity requires rights that are not limited to expressing ideas. More than a freedom to say, it's a freedom to do.

The craft of reporters and editors is defined much more by what they do than by what they enunciate or allow others to enunciate. To begin with, these professionals meet every day to criticize power. Afterwards, they take to the streets, interview people, consult documents, testify to facts and ask powerful questions that bother them. In their daily tasks, they exercise rights that democracy guarantees them – and fulfill their duty, which is essential for democracy itself.

More than a habit, an ethics and a discourse, the press is a method that includes a school of its own to check power, to promote independent research and to moderate public debate. This freedom to do includes, not by chance, the right not to say. Anyone who edits a serious publication deals daily with a large amount of information. Not everything is published. It is true that from time to time, unfortunately, some nonsense escapes, which generates sleepless nights for professionals, but the journalistic method always has the ideal of developing criteria to select what deserves to be published. What is not published remains in reserve.

The right not to publish part of the information is part of the freedom of the press. It follows that the authorities should not demand that the journalist tell the police what he decided not to publish. Such a claim exposes fundamental fundamentals to risk, such as secrecy of the source. Conversations that reporters had with their sources and decided not to make public should be protected, not exposed by the courts.

It is clear that a company, alone and spontaneously, can decide to show all its files to the authorities that conduct an investigation. Autonomous private decisions do not create jurisprudence. As a general rule, however, the judge acts well when he limits himself to knowing what has already been published. Freedom of the press requires that journalists have the right not to express what they don't want to. In the present case, luckily for the country, good democratic sense prevailed.

*Eugenio Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of The superindustry of the imaginary (authentic).

Originally published in the newspaper The State of S. Paul.


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