Monday, November 30, 2009

Criminalizing My Reporting On Brazil?

Having already been sued in Brazil for libel for allegedly insulting the “dignity” of that nation with my reporting and commentary in the United States following the horrible Sept. 29, 2006 mid-air collision that killed 154 over the Amazon, I see now that an attempt is being made to drag me into the trumped-up criminal case against the two American pilots.

None of the allegations in the libel suit against me is true. In fact, we’ve been able to trace all of the allegedly offensive statements about Brazil (Brazil is “idiot of all idiots”) to comments posted by Brazilians on blogs that linked to my Brazil blog, which has been inactive since January 2007, or to Brazilian blogs or news accounts.

Even if I had actually insulted the country of Brazil as viciously as it is insulted on “The Simpsons” (as a response to an earlier attempt in Brazil to punish the Simpson’s producers), this would not by any stretch constitute libel in the United States or in other democratic nations, where the idea of libeling a country is considered ridiculous legally. (Imagine the implications for travel writers, comedians, critics, users of social networking sites, if any country in the world that felt insufficiently honored by something said in America could reach across international borders and enforce judgment against the ugly American!).

As to my using my “great influence” in the U.S. to “impede the return” of the two American pilots to Brazil for their ongoing criminal trial, that’s made up out of thin air.

As to the charge that I employed “sarcasm” in my commentary on Brazil’s handling of the mid-air collision investigation, I am not sure how that word translates into Portuguese. What I did employ was sharp criticism of the hamfisted attempt by Brazilian authorities to cover up obvious and well-known problems in that country’s air-traffic control system, while scapegoating the American pilots (and me).

The civil complaint in Brazil takes offense to my use of a funny photo from the silent film era of a befuddled group of Keystone Kops — but I’ve used the same photo on blogs critical of, say, the United States FAA. That ain’t sarcasm, it’s ridicule — a time-honored tradition of dissent in countries where a citizen’s right to free speech is a pillar of a civilized democracy.

And throughout in my newspaper accounts following the crash, in numerous TV and other media interviews and in the blog, I consistently expressed the deepest sympathy for the relatives and grief for the 154 dead — who were, after all, the primary victims of Brazil’s faulty air-traffic control system on that horrible late afternoon of Sept. 29, 2006, over the skies of the Amazon.

The nominal plaintiff in the Brazilian lawsuit is a widow of one of those killed in the collision, a woman I never heard of till the suit was filed — and certainly never spoke or wrote a word about.

In the complaint, she claims she “feels discriminated against” by my reporting and commentary on the botched Brazilian investigation of the tragedy. My reporting and commentary, which often employed links to Brazilian and other international news and professional aviation sites, was focused on the clumsy attempt to criminalize the accident in a hotly anti-American, xenophobic atmosphere, an ond the Brazilian authorities’ ill-advised determination to criminally prosecute the two American pilots of the business jet on which I was one of seven survivors.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board late last year concluded that mistakes by Brazilian air-traffic control were the probable cause of the accident at 37,000 feet over the Amazon.

Now it appears as if an attempt is under way to drag me — the only one of the survivors who has been free to discuss the accident in the three years since it occurred — into the criminal case.

Here’s a report today in the Brazilian newspaper Porta Imprensa, translation by Richard Pedicini:


Portal Imprensa » Latest News

Published on: 30/11/2009 18:55

Widow of victim of Gol accident begins court notification against journalist in US

Newsroom Portal IMPRENSA

“Lawyer Dante D’Aquino, representative of Rosane Gutjhar, widow of Rolf Ferdinando Gutjhar - one of the victims of the accident involving the Gol Boeing and the Legacy jet, on September 29, 2006 - began a criminal notification against North American journalist Joseph M. Sharkey.

A passenger on the jet, the journalist is said to have used his great influence in the media to launch a campaign in his blogs, High Anxiety and Joe Sharkey in Brazil, in favor of Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, the Legacy’s pilots, and to impede the return of the two to Brazil, and to have offended the honor of Brazilians.

The court notification was determined by the judge of the police court of Curitiba, at the lawyer’s request. In accordance with Article 144, established in the Criminal Code, this is a phase of explanation for the accused to make needful declarations and clarifications, before the penal action being able to, inclusively, avoid it.

“In this case, what we seek is clarifications from the journalist about the phrases and affirmations offensive to the honor of Brazilians and, consequently, to the widow Rosane Gutjahr, who lost her husband in the Flight 1907 accident and who, besides having to carry this pain, has to live with the journalist’s sarcasm and his declarations about the accident”, the lawyer explained.

For D’Aquino, “It’s easy to understand that the widow has felt personally offended with the injuries and defamations published by the blogger against all Brazilians, principally, to see a person treat the tragedy that killed her husband with sarcasm and irony”.

In the lawyer’s request, already accepted by Judge Pedro Luis Sanson Corat, of the Court of Police Investigations in Curitiba, and registered under nº 1590-2/2, is the determination to cite the North American journalist to provide clarification and explain the motive for which he made the affirmations that are offensive to Brazilians.

The next pass now, with the judge’s order already given, is to send a rogatory letter to the journalist for him to provide explanations to the criminal court. “After Joe Sharkey is cited, in the United States, we will evaluate his clarifications and, in case he does not answer, a criminal action can be brought by the family member against the journalist for calumny, defamation, and injury”, the lawyer emphasized.”



Marcelo said...


Do you have a lawyer in Brazil? The article is about the absurd lawsuit filed against you and not about the pilots trial that is under another judge, in a different state, in a completely different and separarte court. The reason of my initial question is that with legal counseling it will not be difficult to dismiss this lawsuit against you. This lawsuit is an absurd, but once filed by the lawyers then the judge has to ask you do you have to say before reaching any decision.
BTW I am not a lawyer but I know a thing or two about this sort of thing in Brazil. Some local journalist were also victim of this kind of lawsuit and were able to reverse the situation. Some lawyers do not learn...

ChefNick said...

"Offended the honor" of Brazilians? I'll warrant that for that case to stick, there must have been some honor to begin with.