Reporters Without Borders hails a Lisbon court’s 26 June decision fining Socialist Party parliamentarian Ricardo Rodrigues 4,950 euros for stealing the mini-recorders of two journalists, Maria Henrique Espada and Fernando Esteves of the magazine Sábado, during an April 2010 interview.
“We are satisfied with this ruling which, for the time being at least, ends a bizarre but disturbing case,” Reporters Without Borders said. “In reaching this decision, the court has guaranteed media freedom and protected the rights of journalists in an exemplary manner.”
Rodrigues reacted yesterday to the ruling, which found him guilty of violating freedom of the media and information, by resigning as vice-president of the Socialist Party group in the national assembly. His lawyer nonetheless said he intended to appeal.
The theft took place during the interview that Rodrigues gave the two journalists on 20 April 2010 in the parliament’s library. When they began to question him about several embarrassing matters, he suddenly jumped up, surreptitiously took their tape-recorders and departed.
Defending his action in court, Rodrigues described the journalists’ questions as being of an “unbearable psychological violence.”
Portugal is ranked 33rd out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Watch a video of the incident: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_CylnffuTA
20.07.2011 - Court rejects parliamentarian’s claim about theft of tape-recorders
Reporters Without Borders hails a decision by a Lisbon court of investigation on 12 July to prosecute Ricardo Rodrigues, the vice-president of the Socialist Party’s parliamentary group, on a charge of “violating the freedom of the press.”
The court ruled in favour of the magazine Sábado, which brought a complaint against Rodrigues because he took the tape-recorders of two Sábado journalists when he was interviewed on 30 April 2001 (see below).
The court rejected his claim that he took them in order to “preserve the content of the interview,” and because he intended to hand them over to the judicial authorities in order to have the interview banned from being broadcast.
The two tape-recorders were not returned to the magazine until 8 July 2010.
12.05.2010 - MP snatches recorders from two journalists during an interview
Reporters Without Borders today expressed shock at an incident in which a Portuguese parliamentary deputy snatched audio recorders from two journalists to whom he had granted an interview in the parliamentary library. Ricardo Rodrigues, vice-president of the majority Socialist Party (PS) group in the parliament, seized the digital recorders from two journalists from the magazine Sábado, before storming out of the room, on 30 April 2010. The interview was however filmed on the camera of the magazine’s photographer and posted on Sábado’s website. In the footage, the deputy can clearly been seen taking the two recorders and putting them in his pocket before leaving, to the mute astonishment of the two journalists, Maria Henrique Espada and Fernando Esteves. (See the Sábado video) :
Rodrigues on 5 May explained his “rash” behaviour by an “unbearable psychological violence” caused to him by the journalists’ questions. They had been questioning him about the resignation of the Azores regional government in 2003 on the basis of rumours that have never been the subject of a judicial investigation and about possible complicity in a case of fraud and forgery brought before the courts in 2008.
“We are shocked by this surreal behaviour that one normally sees only in the most authoritarian countries”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “This theft of equipment and this attitude to the press are quite simply unworthy of a deputy who holds such a high position in the country’s parliament.”
“Nobody forced Mr Rodrigues to give an interview or to be recorded. He could have put an end to the interview without stealing the recorders. Moreover, to view press questions as “unbearable psychological violence” appears to be a disgraceful exaggeration”, it added.
Rodrigues on 3 May sought an injunction on the airing of the interview, attaching the two stolen recorders. The judge has still not ruled on his application and the recorders have not yet been returned to the magazine. “Not content with having illegally taken the Sábado crew’s equipment, the deputy is now planning nothing less than censorship of the magazine on World Press Freedom Day. It appears that in the haste of his “rash” behaviour, Mr Rodriguez forgot to take the two journalists’ video camera but recovered his presence of mind to get the law to ban broadcast of footage of the interview that he probably thought he could manage to delete”, the organisation continued.
“We demand that the two recorders still held by the judge hearing the case should be immediately returned to the two Sabado journalists. There can be no justification for the court to keep the “evidence” which has been obtained by theft and which are anyway available on Sábado’s website. We also wish to draws the judge’s attention to the fact that the two journalists’ recorders contain interviews with people on subjects which have absolutely nothing to do with this case.”
“In stealing them, Mr Rodriguez has dealt a serious blow to the protection of sources and could be held responsible for any consequences as a result of the breach of confidentiality of this information”, it added.
“We also urge the judge to quickly close this case which does not constitute defamation in any way. The journalists only did their job in asking Mr Rodriguez simple questions which he was completely free to answer or not”. Sábado has laid a complaint for theft and press freedom violation, based on the 1999 law governing the status of journalists which says that journalists cannot have equipment seized or be forced to hand over information obtained during the course of their work, except under a legal order or in other cases laid down by law.
President of the socialist parliamentary group, Francisco Assis, reaffirmed his confidence in Ricardo Rodriguez, saying that “nobody should be judged on the basis of a heated reaction”. The other parliamentary groups have not expressed any opinion. The media regulatory body (ERC) has said the case is not within its remit.
“We are still astounded by the absence of reactions from the political class, starting with the Socialist Party to which Mr Rodriguez belongs. It is not possible to legitimately condemn press freedom violations in the world while allowing such behaviour on the part of one of a party’s most senior representatives. Likewise, without going in for political lynching one might expect stronger condemnation from the parliament over the actions of one of its deputies. This silence is unacceptable”, Reporters Without Borders concluded.