By Jaylan Boyle, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – A controversial law dating back to 1997 was brought into the limelight this weekend after the government banned the media from satirizing presidential candidates in the run-up to the elections. The ban led to a protest fronted by comedians from popular TV shows CQC and Casseta & Planeta in Copacabana on Sunday, and could remain in effect until a possible October 31st run-off.
Fernando Neves, a former head of Brazil’s electoral court was quoted as saying “comedians cannot make jokes that make one candidate look bad (compared to others). That’s the way that it is. The law doesn’t permit it and I think it has it’s reasons for being.”
Others are less enamored of the law, originally passed by Fernando Henrique Collor’s government, dubbed the ‘anti-joking law’ that is seen by broadcasters and comedians as an attempt at gagging the media.
“Do you know of any other democracy in the world with rules like this?” asked well-known acerbic satirist Marcelo Tas, who hosts weekly television show CQC which regularly pokes fun at prominent politicians. “If you want to find a bigger joke, you would have to look to Monty Python”.
There has been speculation, the majority coming from outside Brazil, that there has been conspicuously less outrage than might be expected in other global democracies, and that the extremely popular status enjoyed by outgoing president Luis Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva is to blame. However, protests have been planned in some of Brazil’s largest cities, including last Sunday’s in Copacabana.
Many broadcasters have also said that they plan to challenge the law, eve though it could land them with a potential maximum fine of US$112,000 and strip offenders of broadcasting licenses.
Proponents of the law have countered by saying that it prevents candidates such as Dilma Rousseff and José Serra from being targeted unfairly, and creates a level playing field which will in turn encourage candor from candidates who might otherwise be afraid to express their viewpoints for fear of ridicule.
While only a handful of fines have ever been served, Mr. Tas said that this is because networks have been self-censoring in order to avoid punishment.
The wording of the law states that radio and television broadcasters cannot “use trickery, montages or other features of audio or video in any way to degrade or ridicule a candidate, party or coalition”.
As the internet is not licensed by the government it would appear exempt, although law makers have said that if a licensed broadcaster were to publish content on the internet that breaches the restrictions, a court case might ensue.
Mr. Tas also pointed to Barack Obama’s significantly increased support base after he appeared on a number of comedy shows.
“When you allow yourself to be interviewed or confronted with a critical opinion, like on my program, you may take some shots, but you can show a more human side that the voters might like”.
Correction: August 26, 2010
This article was first published on August 25th, 2010 with the law wrongly attributed to the country’s Military Dictatorship.