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I finally got around to doing a press freedom’s story today that I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

The story can be found here on the Financial Times Beyond Brics blog and is about the Folha de S. Paulo’s lawsuit against two brothers who spoofed it on a web site called Falha de S. Paulo.

Falha means failure in Portuguese and the site attacked Folha for what it believes is the paper’s bias against the Workers’ Party.

I personally don’t think that the Folha is Tucano (that is, supports the opposition PSDB party). I think the paper is against more or less critical of everything and I love it for that.

Brazilian leftists, however, think that to criticise something is to be against something.

I’ve had more than a few frustrating moments in Brazil when locals have accused me of being a right-wing conservative because I’ve criticised Lula or his government.

They are unable to grasp the fact that I might be criticising, say, corruption or the lack of an education policy because I think corruption or the lack of an education policy is not a good thing.

The Falha web site wasn’t brilliant but in a free society people should be allowed to spoof and satirise within obvious limits of abuse.

More importantly, a newspaper like Folha – a paper that has built its considerable reputation on criticising the powers that be – should recognise that and respect it without recurring to censorship.

Under any terms.

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Reporters without Borders today released its annual report in which it rates countries by how free their press is.

Unsurprisingly, the northern European nations of Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland share first place. The whole report is available for download here.

Brazil jumped 12 places over last year and ended up in 58th spot. The report said:

“Brazil can now be added to the countries with improved rankings already observed in the South Cone (Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay). The Latin American giant owes its better position to a decline in incidents of serious violence – which had previously been undermining certain regions – and to some pledges to fight against impunity in certain affairs.

“It also owes its improved ranking to favourable legislative changes in matters relating to access of information and editorial freedom, such as the reaffirmation of the right to caricaturise in an election period (which I blogged about here back in August.)

“Lastly, Brazil is one of the world’s most active Internet communities. The situation there would be better still if preventive censorship measures were not being imposed on certain media outlets.”

Kudos to Brazil. Keep it up…

You always know how busy or important a minister is by his willingness to take your calls. (Unless you are The New York Times or The Economist, or one of the other top publications, as I referred to in this earlier post.)

I managed to snag an interview with the Energy Minister by phone earlier this month for this Christian Science Monitor piece. I was surprised he had the time but then I realized this is a guy who’s been in office only a few weeks.

His predecessor resigned to run for some other office in October, as is common in election years in Brazil, and the new man is essentially a stopgap. Appearing in the press is probably not a bad move for him.

The real issue here, though, is the incredibly irritating one of hierarchy in Brazil. When you call a Brazilian ministry, organization, company, or whatever, more often than not the only person authorised to speak to the press is the top man. Even if you just want some basic quotes and information. In Brazil, there is nothing in between an interview with the head honcho or information grabbed from the official web site.

It’s absurd because more often than not any mid-level official can answer questions and in many cases they can answer them better than their superior. The important thing is that the person knows what he is talking about and can be quoted

But this is a hierarchical nation and the big cheese is the big cheese. He wants you to know he is the big cheese.

The answer to this of course is to hire press officers who know the company they represent and are authorised to speak on their behalf. A good example is Embraer, who have the most knowledgeable and efficient press officers I’ve ever had the pleasure of dealing with.

But the vast majority of assessores de imprensa, as they are known in Brazil, are outside hires and serve only as a bridge between reporter and organization. They don’t know anything about their employers.

The result is that companies get no press at all. Which might be exactly what they want.

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