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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.

Brazilian comedian Marcelo Tas, photo by James Della Vale/Flickr Creative Commons License.

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.

American president Barack Obama, who utilized popular media to get across his personality to the masses, photo by SEIU International/Flickr Creative Commons License.

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.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. The thought police have entered the building my people. Lady freedom is on the run. Watch your backs my brothers and sisters, the law has spoken. Speak no evil I tell you. For thou shall feel the wrath, vengeance and fury of the State. Kinda sounds like the old testament doesn’t it? Fast forward five thousand years and we’re back again at square one.

    What a joke. That’s the whole point. A joke. Just a joke. Not a gun or a knife or a machete. Just a little innocuous joke. A jibe. A laugh. A laugh at you, you untouchable politicians. Take the crit like the men you are, you political scumbags. After all, you are public figures, aren’t you? What’s wrong? Got something to hide? A few million dollars stashed away in an account in Switzerland that you siphoned off from a government contract/an ex partner/ your ex wife? Is your mistress a former hostess at club help? Did you fiddle with your twelve year old son’s best friend Francisco when he slept over at your $10m Leblon apartment during Carnaval.

    The public know the score you political scumbags. No law will stop that reality. The whole point of comedy and parody is that we need to laugh at the human condition: fallibilty.

    How can you expect the people to put their trust in someone who believes he is beyond reproach? You’re going to screw us anyway, so let us take the piss at your expense. That’s not too much to ask? We have a sense of humour. You need to have one too. Because the joke can’t always be on us.

    Saude!!

    Politicians are scum at the best of time. Brazilian politicians make have turned sleaze into an art form. The girls of If I believe Lula is a backstabbing socialist

  2. Just to calm everyone a bit, the Brazilian Supreme Court unanimously (yes, unanimously) decided that the law banning satire was unconstitutional. Satire is once again alive and well in Brazil, thanks to the eleven Justices and the system of checks and balances, which does exist in Brazil.

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