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Brazil: Supreme Court Allows Satire of Political Candidates

(June 26, 2018) On June 21, 2018, the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal, STF) ruled as unconstitutional provisions of the Elections Law that prevented radio and television broadcasters from running humorous programs ridiculing or lampooning candidates, political parties, and coalitions in the three months prior to an election. (Lei das Eleições, Lei No. 9.504, de 30 de Setembro de 1997; STF Declara Inconstitucionais Dispositivos da Lei das Eleições que Vedavam Sátira a Candidatos, NOTÍCIAS STF (June 21, 2018).)

The ruling was the final decision on a Direct Action of Unconstitutionality (Ação Direta de Inconstitucionalidade (ADI) 4451) proposed by the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (Associação Brasileira de Emissoras de Rádio e Televisão, ABERT) arguing that sections II and III (in part) of article 45 of the Elections Law were unconstitutional. ABERT maintained that the ban violated freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the right to information—institutional guarantees truly constitutive of Brazilian democracy—producing “a serious silencing effect on radio and television stations, forced to avoid spreading controversial political issues so as not to be accused of ‘disseminating a favorable or negative opinion’ of a particular candidate, party, coalition, or its organs or representatives.” (Id.)

Writing for the Court, whose decision was unanimous, Justice Alexandre de Moraes stressed that the provisions of Law No. 9,504 violated freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the right to information under the pretext of ensuring smoothness and equality in elections. (Id.) According to Moraes, the provisions are unconstitutional because they subordinate and forcefully subject freedom of expression to restrictive norms during the electoral period, with the clear purpose of reducing freedom of opinion, artistic creation, and the free exchange of ideas. (Id.)