August 22, 2010 / 9:40 PM / in 7 years

Brazil comedians say election censorship no joke

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian comedians are up in arms against a ruling that blocks them from poking fun at their favorite targets -- politicians on the campaign trail.

A group of stand-up comedians and television comedy actors held a protest on Sunday against the ruling that bars any ribbing of political candidates over the airwaves in the run-up to the October 3 elections.

Donning red clown noses and T-shirts with the logo of the right-to-ridicule campaign -- a cartoon clown with a cork stuffed in its mouth -- several hundred people marched along Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach.

“This is a joke -- and it’s not in the slightest bit funny,” said Fabio Porchat, a stand-up comedian who helped organize the protest.

“First we can’t laugh at politicians, but from here it’s going to grow -- by 2015 we won’t even be able to talk about the government.”

Brazilians will vote for president as well as senators, congressional representatives and governors in October. Dilma Rousseff, backed by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, leads in the presidential race.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal in 2009 added an amendment to the country’s electoral law that prevents “any use of audio or video that in any way degrades or ridicules candidates (or) political parties.”

The amendment, which took effect in July, calls for fines of up to 100,000 reais ($57,000) for violations and as much as double that for repeat offenders.

“This is a country that wants to be considered a mature democracy and then it comes out with something like this -- it’s completely ridiculous,” said Danilo Gentili, a reporter for the comic news program CQC, known for aggressive and mocking interviews of high-profile politicians.

Critics call the ruling a throwback to Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship that routinely censored newspapers, television shows and even soap operas.

“If you don’t want to be a ridiculed politician, be an honest one,” read one sign at the march.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; editing by Mohammad Zargham

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