By Leonardo Desideri
(Opinion) In recent days, three of the most traditional North American newspapers – The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal – and the most widely read generalist newspaper in Spain, El País, published articles addressing the risks of the recent monocratic decisions of the Justice Alexandre de Moraes, of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), to Brazilian democracy.
The international repercussion in traditional media contrasts with the low visibility given to the same type of questioning in wide-ranging media outlets in Brazil.
There are exceptions, moreover, cases of opinion makers outside the right wing in the national territory who take public concern about the attacks on freedom of expression—those who have been attacked for it.
Last week, the American journalist Glenn Greenwald became a target of the left when he expressed concern about Moraes’ decisions.
Known for having published hacked conversations between former members of the Lava Jato Operation on the website The Intercept, Greenwald was considered a hero among leftists for having given the starting point for the dismantling of the operation that had resulted in the imprisonment of President Lula (PT).
Faced with a flurry of criticism for his position on Moraes, the journalist evoked the importance of not relativizing “principles” in the name of ideologies.
“Whoever defends a principle is not on the side of any political faction. A principle does not serve the left or the right. A principle, by definition, has universal application. Those who cannot reason with principles always assume that everyone has the same disability,” he said via Twitter.
For free speech specialist Pedro Franco, who holds a master’s degree in the social history of culture from PUC-Rio and interdisciplinary studies from New York University, the left’s omission behavior about recent STF decisions and criticism of Greenwald “has a lot to do with motivated reasoning.”
“If the primary targets of censorious lawsuits were from the left, perhaps the left would be the defender of free speech. Always the one who is the target of the attack becomes a defender of free speech. That’s a human tendency, and it’s rare – though it shouldn’t be that rare – to see members of the opposing political camp defending their opponents’ right to free speech, as was the case with Glenn Greenwald.”
THE LEFT CONDEMNS THE “AMERICAN VIEW” OF FREE SPEECH
Many of those who criticized Greenwald after his positions on Moraes accused him of wanting to introduce a typically American idea of freedom of expression in Brazil, in which unrestricted manifestation of thought is seen as an ideal.
For Franco, this argument is being used “to dismiss Glenn’s criticism and not overthink the substance of his words.
“The United States has a sui generis jurisprudence regarding freedom of speech. I think it’s the country that cherishes that right the most. It makes sense that Glenn or the average American has the impetus and has on the tip of his tongue the arguments to defend this right and puts his face to defend it more often than the Brazilian.”
“But the right of free speech is not foreign to the Brazilian legal system, it is not foreign to any modern liberal democracy, and it is not an alien principle to our jurisprudence,” he says.
Bruna Frascolla, Ph.D. in Philosophy from UFBa and columnist for Gazeta do Povo, believes that the American model of freedom of speech not only does not contradict Moraes’ logic, but it is precisely the intellectual origin of what he has been doing.
For her, Brazil, in recent years, went “from a censorship model that was objective, because it characterized certain theses as morally reprehensible” to the “practical parameter of the United States, according to which freedom of expression should be unrestricted, except in case of damage.
In the US, according to her, decisions about freedom of speech always end up falling into the subjectivist criteria, in which the judge ends up deciding what does or does not cause harm to society.
“(1841-1935) on the First Amendment (which deals with freedom of speech). His argument was practical: he used as an example the idea that you cannot shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater because it is dangerous. From that point on, anyone can consider anything dangerous and call for censorship in the opposite direction,” she says. This interpretation was even used to defend censorship during the war.
For Bruna, the solution to this subjectivism would be establishing “a consensus through objective laws of what should be censored and what should not.”
“When you say ‘it’s a crime to do things that are dangerous,’ it’s up to the judge’s head to say what is dangerous and what is not,” she notes.”
“‘Hate speech can’t.’ Why? ‘Because it’s dangerous.’ And how am I going to determine whether it is dangerous or not? That’s up to the judge. It is all very subjective. You end up making, even if informally, a list of prohibited things because they are dangerous. But this was not codified. It’s in the mind of the judge, who does whatever he wants,” she adds.
MORAES IGNORES THE RISK OF THE “STREISAND EFFECT,” SAYS SPECIALIST
For Franco, Moraes may end up provoking in Brazil what is called the “Streisand effect,” that is, the idea that censorship awakens people’s interest in censored content.
He cites as an example Nazi Germany, where, according to some historians, laws to curb hate speech did not prevent Hitler from coming to power.
“There were laws prohibiting anti-Semitic speech in Germany before the Nazis came to power. There were high doses of censorship, including against the Nazis. Did this stop the Nazis? No. On the contrary, it was used precisely as a weapon by the Nazis to make themselves look like victims. This generates sympathy for people who often do not deserve sympathy – like the Nazis, for example.”
Franco compares the attitude of Moraes and part of the left to “wanting to combat global warming by breaking all the thermometers.”
“It is a superficial and inefficient palliative, which will lead to obscuring the nature of the problem more than fighting it,” he says.
“I think it is a monstrous naivety of Alexandre de Moraes to think that this method of combat will work. It is a monstrous naivety of all those who think this will strengthen our institutions because they function based on trust. And this does not generate trust,” he adds.
For Bruna Frascolla, establishing clear laws about what can and cannot be said publicly is the best solution to avoid judges’ arbitrariness and the usurpation of the freedom of expression by powerful agents.
“In societies that do not have objective laws about the limits of expression, democracy is always subject to these two risks,” she says.
In this sense, she proposes a reflection on an essential limit of free speech according to the American model:
“Imagine that some crazy and extravagant billionaire decides to defend cannibalism. Since he has a lot of money, he sponsors television programs and makes a whole cultural revolution with his money alone, defending cannibalism. And he will do this because he has money. Society will be outraged and try to censor, but it won’t have the means to do so because this is the freedom of expression of such a billionaire.”
With information from Gazeta do Povo