Brazil carefully monitors racial issues and has strict electoral laws that limit criticism of candidates in the runup to elections. There are lawsuits in at least 20 of its 26 states seeking deletion of Google content, according to news reports there. The video that drew controversy last week aired paternity claims against a mayoral candidate in Campo Grande, a state capital in Brazil’s interior.
Google says it resists restrictions it regards as illegitimate but complies with lawful requests from government officials. The company appealed the ruling in the Campo Grande case but blocked the video after the court rejected the appeal and police arrested Fabio Jose Silva Coelho, the top Google official in Brazil.
“Our goal with YouTube is to offer a community that everyone can enjoy and, at the same time, is a platform for freedom of expression worldwide,” Coelho said in a blog post after his brief detention. “This is a great challenge, mainly because a content acceptable in one country may be offensive — or even illegal — in others.”
The company declined further comment.
Many Brazilians criticized the government’s handling of the case and what they see as elevating the rights of political candidates over the free-speech rights of their constituents.
“It’s a step back in terms of freedom of expression, something like we see happening in countries like China,” said Monica Rosina, professor at Fundacao Getulio Vargas Law School. “It’s bad for the Brazilian image abroad.”
Yet the debate itself shows that the idea of free speech has grown deep roots in Brazil, a country that had a military dictatorship as recently as the 1980s.
It also highlights the entrenchment of another democratic ideal — separation of powers. Judges are empowered to do things in Brazil that frustrate officials in other branches of government. Nearly two-thirds of Brazil’s requests to Google for content removals last year came from courts, as opposed to police or other members of the executive branch.
Such tensions are familiar in democracies, young or old.
In June 2010, years into Turkey’s ban on YouTube, President Abdullah Gul publicly complained, “I cannot approve of Turkey being in the category of countries that bans YouTube [and] prevents access to Google.”
He didn’t say it at a news conference. With YouTube blocked, he turned to another high-tech platform, typing out his call for free expression in staccato bursts — on Twitter.
Moura reported from Rio de Janeiro.