Ombudsman Folha   Folha Online

Echoes of 64


Journalist and novelist Carlos Heitor Cony, a Folha columnist and member of its editorial board, has been the target of criticism since June, when it was announced that he has the right to a special pension and reparations for having been persecuted by the military regime that ruled Brazil from 1964 through 1985.

There is no doubt that Cony was persecuted. His house was invaded and his family threatened in 1964. He was obliged to leave the Rio newspaper "Correio da Manhã" in 1965 and was blocked from working at TV Rio. He lived for a while using pseudonyms, had to leave Brazil and was jailed six times.

Law 10.559 of Nov. 13, 2002, guarantees Cony and all those who were persecuted the right to reparations for the physical and emotional pain they suffered during the dictatorship.

Based on the criteria defined by law, the Amnesty Commission determined that Cony has the right to a special pension of 23,187.90 reals per month (about US $8,450 at the current exchange rate), a calculation of what the editor in chief at a newspaper the size of "Correio da Manhã" would earn now, limited to a ceiling of 19,115.19 reals (about $6,960) by the scale for federal employees, and reparations of 1.4 million reals (about $510,000) corresponding to the period from October 1998 to June 2004, when the judgment was rendered.

All this information was reported by Folha on June 22 and Oct. 20. The amounts stipulated by the Amnesty Commission, based on articles in the law, contrast with the indemnification approved for the families of those killed by the military regime, that receive, according to other legislation, a maximum amount of 150,000 reals (about $54,650).

The difference between what is received by a professional who survived the dictatorship and another who died, and the high amounts stipulated, provoked strong reactions and indignation in the press. In the case of Folha, many readers questioned the columnist for having applied for the benefit and accepting the indemnification, and the newspaper, for not having censured it.

Letters were like this: "I was perplexed to learn about the indemnification given to the journalist and even more perplexed with the omission by Folha and its columnists." Or this one: "In my opinion, if he fought the regime of 64 as a journalist he spontaneously assumed the risks of speaking out against the dictatorship, knowing that he could be fired." Still more: "I want to know when Folha will take a position on this, or if it feels uncomfortable because its columnist as at the top of the list."

I don't intend to pass judgment. It is not the job of the ombudsman, nor do I feel that I have the right to do it. I would only like to stitch together some observations for reflection.

"Intolerable injustice"

1 - Cony and all those who were persecuted have the right to qualify for reparations for the damage that they were judged to have suffered. Only they know their own motives.

2 - There was no fraud or misstep in filing his claim. He followed all the procedures and met all the requirements of the law. There is no evidence that he had any privileges in the judgment of his case and the terms of the decision by the Amnesty Commission. He was not the one who stipulated the amounts of the indemnifications, but the commission, based on the law approved by Congress by these same parties and members of Congress that now are showing surprise and indignation.

INSET: Folha faltered in the case of the millionaire indemnifications: it reported, but it did not take a position nor did it provide any space for the debate

3 - It is obvious that the execution of the law is provoking, by the needs of the country and by the disparities between indemnifications, what Janio de Freitas called "intolerable injustice" (Folha, July 23, page A5, "Indemnification"). An example: the widow of laborer Manuel Fiel Filho, tortured and killed in 1976, receives a pension of 900 reals (about $325). It is a scandal. But I don't believe that the problem is in the principle of the law, that of giving reparations, but in the amounts established.

4 - There is no doubt, therefore, that there should be a revision of the criteria and interpretations that govern the application of the law to make the disparities, which seem to be unjust, disappear.

5 - I don't believe, however, that the journalist - and so many other journalists and other citizens who benefited from the same law - have committed an ethical lapse. An ethical lapse was the crime committed by journalists in Rio in 1995 who forged documents to benefit undeservedly from special pensions. That was a scandal that shamed us. We are not dealing with fraud or a con game, but with distortions that should be corrected.

Many believe that there should be no indemnification for those who fought against the military regime and suffered the consequences of this fight. They argue that a fight for ideas means risks. I admire those who think that way, but I don't believe that those who think differently should be cursed.

6 - Folha's behavior was faltering. It reported, as was its obligation, the approval of the indemnification given to Cony and did not omit that the journalist belongs to its editorial board, but avoided discussion provoked by the distortions and disparities among those indemnified. One or another columnist dealt with the problem without citing the Cony case, and the newspaper did not do an editorial about it, did not complain nor raise the topic on its op-ed pages. Vaguinaldo Marinheiro, interim managing editor, justified the newspaper's position: "Folha believes that this is a matter about an individual, Carlos Heitor Cony, with the government."

Crass mistakes

At this time, the discussion about the pensions runs away from seeking a solution to the problem, which would be revision of the law, and feeds on the judgment regarding Cony. This is common in journalism. Should the Amnesty Law be enacted or not? If enacted, should it provide millionaire indemnification or not? Does it merit reparations or not? Does it need money or not?

In my opinion, two serious errors are being perpetuated: maintaining, by the government and lawmakers, failed criteria for quantifying indemnification and personification of the discussion in the person of Carlos Heitor Cony. It is the easiest road, but certainly not is the most efficient nor the most honest.


Terrorism and equivalents

Folha published on Nov. 18 an interview with Farouk Kaddumi, successor to Yasser Arafat in Fatah, the main Palestinian political party. The headline on the interview was, "Hardline Palestinian wants power for radicals" (international section, page A14), provoked reactions by some readers, who believe that Folha was not faithful to the meaning of Kaddumi's statements.

The biggest complaint came from the head of the Palestinian special delegation to Brazil, Musa Amer Odeh, and Folha published a letter by him on Nov. 19 in Letters to the Editor. One of the complaints is not new: the ambassador questioned the Folha's use of the term terrorist to define Palestinian groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

At the bottom of the letter, an editor's note justified the use of the term: "Islamic Jihad and Hamas are terrorist groups, according to the rules of standardization in Folha's stylebook, since 'they practice violent actions against civilian targets.'"

The note provoked a wave of letters. The op-ed page on Saturday published three of them, one favoring Folha's position and two against. Below the letters was another editor's note, which is reproduced in its entirety for its importance: "In Folha's opinion, the current Israeli government practices activities that are the equivalent of terrorism."

I was surprised because I have not yet seen similar positions made by Folha. I did a survey, with the help of the newspaper's archives, of editions over the past three years and did not find any story in Folha which associated the terms terrorism or terrorist with any action by the Israeli government or military in Palestine or against Palestinians.

It is therefore new orientation, and up to now, it has no practical effect.


I incorrectly wrote the Law of Retribution in my column last Sunday ("The ire of readers"). I wrote it in capital letters, as if it were a reference to a proper noun. The law or penalty of retribution, according to the "Aurelio" Dictionary, is "an old penalty for which an infraction is avenged, inflicting on the delinquent the same damage or harm that he practices." Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.

The same column had another mistake, this one due to "O Globo." I was faithful to the story in the Rio newspaper and said that assailant Rafael da Silva Alves had been shown, after being held by police, with his right eye swollen. The information came from the story in the newspaper and a photo caption. Attentive readers showed me, however, that in the photo published the eye affected was the left. I consulted the newspaper, believing that the photo published had been inverted. The photo was correct, the story was not. "O Glob" erred, and so did I.

Tradução de John Wright
Leia colunas anteriores publicadas aos domingos Veja quem já foi ombudsman da Folha

Copyright Folha de S. Paulo. Todos os direitos reservados. É proibida a reprodução do conteúdo desta página em qualquer meio de comunicação, eletrônico ou impresso, sem autorização escrita da Folhapress (