SAO PAULO, June 27 (Reuters) – Brazilian federal prosecutors on Tuesday filed a lawsuit to strip local media outlet Jovem Pan of its radio broadcasting licenses for allegedly spreading disinformation and advocating for a military intervention during last year’s presidential election.
The move against Jovem Pan – a freewheeling outfit best known for its close alignment with far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro – is part of a broader reckoning in Brazil with the fallout from the country’s most fraught election in a generation.
Bolsonaro, who narrowly lost to leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is currently on trial in federal electoral court over accusations he abused his power by spreading baseless claims about Brazil’s electronic voting system. Meanwhile, many of his one-time allies are being grilled by lawmakers in a congressional probe into the Jan. 8 storming of government buildings by thousands of Bolsonaro supporters.
The prosecutors’ move against Jovem Pan is likely to raise questions about freedom of speech in Brazil at a time when lawmakers are debating a controversial bill that would force tech companies to more rigorously police their platforms.
Constitutional lawyer Andre Marsiglia said the lawsuit sets a worrying precedent.
“If there is a risk to democracy resulting from the spread of disinformation, there is also a risk in allowing prosecutors and the judiciary branch to choose which media outlets can or cannot participate in the public debate,” Marsiglia said.
Federal prosecutors in Sao Paulo state alleged that Jovem Pan spread baseless claims, many originally made by Bolsonaro, that Brazil’s electronic voting system was vulnerable to fraud. Jovem Pan also encouraged attacks against authorities and democratic institutions, and supported the idea of a military intervention, the prosecutors alleged.
“Jovem Pan contributed to a significant number of people doubting the integrity of the electoral process or acting directly” against the election result, said the prosecutors, citing the Jan. 8 riot, as well as road blockades protesting Lula’s victory last November.
Jovem Pan’s conduct directly violated Brazil’s constitution and legislation on public broadcasting, the prosecutors said. They also requested that Jovem Pan be fined 13.4 million reais ($2.8 million).
Jovem Pan said it would only comment within the confines of the lawsuit, adding that “over the course of 80 years, the Jovem Pan Group has reaffirmed its commitment every day to Brazilian society and democracy.”
($1 = 4.8015 reais)
Reporting by Peter Frontini and Beatriz Garcia in Sao Paulo, Carolina Pulice in Mexico City Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Matthew Lewis