Brazil: Lawsuits force popular political blog to close down

by Paula Góes

The A Nova Corja blog [The New Scum, pt], a symbol of independent and investigative journalism on the Brazilian blogosphere, has published a farewell post [pt]. On August 6th, the last remaing blogger of the group, Rodrigo Alvares, announced that he has decided to close the blog down due to professional commitments and a consequent lack of time to carry on posting as much as he would like to.

Over the past five years that the blog has been online, Nova Corja stood out mainly because of its coverage of corruption scandals in the Rio Grande do Sul Government, accusations that have now led the Federal Public Ministry of that state to investigate governor Yeda Crusius for malpractice and administrative dishonesty. Nova Corja was also known for its acid, dark sense of humor and for its unyielding opposition to PT, the ruling Labour Party of Brazilian President Lula – although at the same time the blog was often also accused by its many foes of backing the same party.

The last post has gathered, at the time of publication of this piece, nearly 300 comments. According to Alvares, the blog’s archive will still be available online as a testimony of its fight against corruption:

Espero que o A Nova Corja permaneça como registro da demência que assola não só o governo Yeda, mas a política gaúcha e brasileira. As eleições do ano que vem serão as mais importantes desde 1989, e boa parte da bandalha praticada por eles ultimamente está nos arquivos do blog.

ABRA$$O

I hope that Nova Corja remains as a logbook of the dementia ravaging not only the Yeda government, but Rio Grande do Sul and Brazilian politics. Next year’s elections will be the most important since 1989, and [posts about] much of the recent fuckup [our politicians] have caused can be found in the blog archives.

$EE YOU

Design by Cristiano Zanella

"$ee you". Design by Cristiano Zanella

Lúcia Freitas [pt] remembers that Nova Corja was the only Brazilian blog invited to attend the G-20 Summit in London last April. She is very concerned at the low interest the news seems to have raised on the blogosphere, as only a few blog posts and twitter reactions can be found online:

Não houve proteção da comunidade, blogagem coletiva, indignação. Passou batido.
Bad, bad bloggers

Um mergulho no silêncio de jornalismo bem-feito, claro, contundente. Derrubado por uma sequência de processos na justiça que dão dores de cabeça incuráveis a cidadãos no exercício do seu direito à livre expressão.
Este tipo de silêncio é péssimo para todos nós.

Eu, como blogueira E jornalista, fico com vergonha, vergonha, vergonha. Primeiro de mim, por não ter lido os feeds por dois dias e não ter visto tamanho absurdo. Segundo de meus vizinhos de rede, que se reúnem tão facilmente para o #lingerieday, mas não se preocupam nem por um instante com as questões mais profundas que nos cercam e atingem.

There has been no support from the community, no blogging carnival, no indignation. Nothing is going on.
Bad, bad bloggers.

A source of well-writen, clear, forceful journalism descends into silence. It was overthrown by a string of lawsuits that cause an incurable headache for those exercising their right to freedom of expression.
This type of silence is bad for us.

I, as a blogger and journalist, am ashamed, ashamed, ashamed. First for not having read my feeds for two days and having not seen this great absurdity earlier. Secondly, for my network neighbors, who gather themselves together so easily for the #lingerieday, but do not bat an eyelid about the deeper issues affecting us.

While most of the blogosphere remains silent or unaware of Nova Corja’s closure, one blogger celebrates the news: Polibio Braga [pt], one of the blog’s plaintiffs, is happy to have helped to shut down yet another blog, having done the same a few years ago, when he filed a lawsuit against the Tomando na Cuia blog [still online at a new web address, pt]. On the second occasion, however, Nova Corja won the case as the lawsuit was rejected on the grounds of ineptitude. Nonetheless,  Polibio Braga [pt] celebrates:

A remessa dos dois blogs para o aterro sanitário virtual da Web, é uma homenagem do editor a todos os jornalistas caluniados por grupos iguais de delinqüentes políticos petistas. Além da família comum, os editores dos dois blogs escondiam-se sob pseudônimos e alojamentos em provedores fora do país que acolhem todo gênero de bandidos.

The dispatch of these two blogs to the virtual web landfill is a tribute by the editor [of this blog] to all journalists slandered by the same type of Labour Party political criminal groups. Besides being from the same family, the two blogs’ publishers have hidden themselves behind aliases and host their blogs on servers abroad that accept all sorts of bandit [bloggers].

Because of its investigative work, often scooping the mainstream media, Nova Corja has been subject to three lawsuits over its 5 year existance, and some of its bloggers and their families have been subject to various threats. According to Marcelo Träsel [pt], one of the blog’s past collaborators, the main motivation behind the blog’s closure is indeed this set of three lawsuits they faced, but not because the bloggers were afraid of the consequences:

O problema é que eles custam dinheiro, mesmo quando o juiz decide a seu favor, e, principalmente, tomam muito tempo. Todos os membros atuais e antigos da Corja têm empregos e famílias para cuidar. O jornalismo político era algo como uma prestação de serviços à sociedade, um voluntariado. Quando os poderosos foram perturbados e resolveram se aproveitar do Judiciário para tentar calar a Corja, porém, a sociedade mostrou-se incapaz de ajudar. O tempo livre antes dedicado ao jornalismo passou a ser dedicado a defender-se da litigância de má-fé. Algumas famílias até mesmo sofreram ameaças.

The problem is that lawsuits cost money, even if the judge decides in your favor, and, above all, they take a long time. All current and former members of Corja have jobs and families to look after. Their political journalism was something of a service to society, a kind of volunteering. When the powerful ones started to be disturbed and decided to take advantage of the judiciary to try to silence Corja, however, society showed itself unable to help. Bloggers spare time, before being allocated to journalism, began to be consumed defending themselves from litigation in bad faith. Some of their families have even been threatened.

Träsel, who says the news is a nail in democracy’s coffin, carries on and urges the creation of an organization similar to the Electronic Frontier Foundation in Brazil:

Algumas lições importantes podem ser tiradas desse caso. Primeiro, percebe-se que o bom jornalismo ainda faz diferença. A luz do dia incomoda aos poderosos e, no contexto da comunicação em rede mediada por computador, está ao alcance de qualquer cidadão expor os fatos ao sol. É o que chamo de webjornalismo cidadão, uma prática cada vez mais incensada como panacéia para os problemas do jornalismo. Pois bem, esse caso mostra os limites do webjornalismo cidadão.

Expostos ao sol, os políticos e sua entourage costumam sentir-se acuados e apelam ao Judiciário para tentar calar seus inimigos. Não precisam nem mesmo vencer um processo: os trâmites legais em si mesmos já têm um enorme poder disruptivo sobre o trabalho de pessoas que não vivem para a política e precisam se dedicar à vida real. Repórteres funcionários de empresas de comunicação podem contar com o setor jurídico para defendê-los nestes processos e seguir com sua rotina produtiva. Também não precisam pagar os custos judiciais. Repórteres amadores ou sem apoio institucional, por outro lado, são alvos fáceis para a intimidação jurídica.

Some important lessons can be drawn from this case. First, we realize that good journalism still makes a difference. In the cold light of day it bothers the powerful and, in the context of network communication mediated by computers, it is possible for any citizen to expose facts. This is what I call online citizen journalism, a practice increasingly invoked as a panacea to the problems of journalism. Well, this case shows the limitations of online citizen journalism.

When exposed, politicians and their entourage often feel cornered and call the judiciary to try to silence their enemies. They don’t even need to win a case: the legal procedures themselves have the major disruptive power to end the work of people who do not live on politics and need to do something real for a living. Those reporters employed by media companies may have the company’s legal arm to defend them during these lawsuits and can carry on with their production routines. They also need not pay for the court costs. Reporters without institutional support or amateurs, on the other hand, are easy targets for legal intimidation.

Maurício Caleiro [pt] says that the powerful and corrupt forces who used to enjoy the complicit silence of the mainstream media are behind the move to close blogs. He calls for immediate action:

Portanto, se nada for for feito para garantir ao menos a certeza de defesa jurídica, a blogosfera política independente e crítica – que, diante dessas circunstâncias, tende a encolher – vai repetir o que acontece no universo do grande capital que tanto critica: blogueiros que são suportados por portais ou que, devido a alta audiência e longevidade na rede, já constituiram suas próprias redes informais de proteção jurídicas, tendem a sobreviver; a massa de neófitos e de independentes que lutam para conquistar um espaço ficará jogada aos tubarões da litigância. Portanto, é preciso reagir. E já.

If nothing is done to ensure at least the certainty of a legal defense, the political and independent blogosphere – that, given these circumstances, is shrinking – will repeat what happens in the world of big business that it so often criticizes: those bloggers supported by web portals or who, due to high audience and longevity on the web, have already built up their own informal networks of legal protection, tend to survive; the independent and neophyte masses who struggle to make room for themselves will be thrown to the litigation sharks. So, we must react. And now.

For further information about recent attacks on freedom of expression in Brazil, please see the following Global Voices posts:

Plaintiffs try to silence one of the country’s leading journalists
Judicial decisions, a growing threat to online freedom

Originally published by GlobalVoices: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2009/08/16/brazil-lawsuits-force-popular-political-blog-to-close-down/.