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With All Due Respect, Journalists

04/16/2018 - 07h16



It wasn't a World Cup game nor even the last episode of a Soap Opera. In the streets, however, it was easy to find groups of people with their eyes fixed on television sets. The legal debates were full of flamboyant phases and reasoning that was as difficult to follow as the oft repeated words.

The word "teratological" appeared on social networks and promptly gave people a reason to run to the dictionary. Zuenir Ventura, a member of the Brazilian Academy of Literature and a columnist for O Globo (The Globe), listed some that appeared in the court session on the 4th of April that judged the habeas corpus of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva that could have blocked his imprisonment: "protective vocation", "phatic frame", "guarantor posture" and "abstracted" in addition to the monster "teratological" and its variations. "Monstrous", but the way, is one of its definitions in the dictionary.

The translation of words and expressions is only one of the obligations - and perhaps the easiest to fulfill - of journalists. Of much more importance is the translation of the meaning of the decision, offering behind the scenes narratives, analysis, context and explanations to the reader who, more often than not, had already heard it but didn't completely understand or make the connections necessary in order to do so. In August of 2017, I dealt with the protagonism of legal questions here. Since then, one gets the impression that this tendency has only increased, with cases ranging from the judicialization of health care to sports trials.

Historically, Folha has published material that demonstrates its concern with these issues. For more than 30 years, lawyer Walter Ceneviva wrote a weekly column, with "elegance, public spiritedness and educational intent", using the words of one of his successors, lawyer Luís Francisco Carvalho Filho, who today alternates with constitutional law professor Oscar Vilhena Vieira. They are educational, assertive and often, polemic and rebutting.

Another example is the "Questions of Order" section which is published when circumstances demand. It was launched in 2013 and edited by Marcelo Coelho, who initially examined, explained and commented on the 53 sessions on the mensalão (big monthly payment) trial. His majestic work has repeated itself in the petrolão (big petroleum) scandal and the criminal action against Lula. Without a legal degree, the experienced writer with impeccable text and a beacon for news, covers the sessions from the point-of-view of a layman and produces a different kind of reporting.

For more than 10 years Folha has also hosted the blog of Frederico Vasconcelos, the journalist who best understands the functioning of the Brazilian Judicial system, a pioneer in investigative reporting on the Courts.

Well served by the special menu, readers suffer in the daily trivial variations. This week a decision at the Federal Superior Justice Tribunal (STJ) served as an example of the difficulty for journalists to go beyond hermetic decisions.

Justice Nancy Andrighi from the STJ, decided to send the São Paulo Electoral Court an inquiry investigating former governor Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB Party) for the use of off-the-books campaign financing.

The tone of the coverage - not only from Folha - was that he had been given favorable treatment due to the fact that he had stayed out of the so-called Car Wash (Lava Jato) operation and investigation. But it didn't explain how. Former Federal General Prosecutor Ridrigo Janot gave a hint by saying that the decision "is technically difficult to swallow".

The editor of the Power & Politics section, Fabio Zanini, said that it wasn't possible to provide details regarding the STJ's motives because the case is being conducted in judicial secrecy, but that "there is no doubt that the former governor was given favorable treatment, especially considering that the penalties for electoral crimes are lighter than for crimes like corruption, money laundering, etc."

The Globe revealed that the STF, previously in 2018, had already sent to the Electoral Court cases against Dilma Rousseff, Guido Mantega and Paulo Skaff, and that 25% of the requests made for inquiries stemming from the Odebrecht plea-bargain agreements had had taken a similar path.

The televised trials clarify the need for the preparation and commitment that the coverage of judicial subjects demands. The prominence of the courts over congress and the executive branch is evident and should be cause for deep reflection and continued investment.

Hearings regarding privileged standing have been set to return in May. So here comes another championship audience, another opportunity for journalists.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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