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Should internet campaign ads be against the law?

Brazil is trying to change laws that limit political speech. But it still wants to forbid anonymous blogging.

A man stands next to a campaign poster of Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Rio de Janeiro, Oct. 27, 2006. In Brazil's last presidential election, case-by-case decisions taken by electoral courts sometimes installed ad hoc policies regarding internet campaigning that varied by state. (Sergio Moraes/Reuters)

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazilian politicians thinking about re-election have been devouring books about Barack Obama and others who capitalized on the internet during last year's U.S. presidential campaign. Many have begun Twittering and blogging as they try to connect to an ever-more-web-savvy country.

But even if proposed reforms go into effect, they won't be able to take full advantage of the Obama model, since among other things campaign advertising will still be forbidden outside the presidential race. (They will be able to Twitter away, though.)

Brazilian campaign laws — which are much stricter than American ones — include several restrictions on political speech that can seem arcane to outsiders, and even to some Brazilians. A bill recently sent to the president for approval would loosen many of the constraints — though leave in a place a few perplexing caveats.

Brazil's campaign period lasts only three months, during which paid television and radio advertising is prohibited and free time is doled out according to each party’s strength in the legislature. Print ads are highly restricted, in theory to give equal voice to smaller parties with fewer economic resources. Television and radio journalists are required to follow strict fair coverage rules.

Internet advertising is essentially prohibited, and candidates may only promote themselves in a special domain. A prehistoric paragraph from 1997 legislation essentially governs the internet, equating it to radio and television, and case-by-case decisions taken by electoral courts leading up to the 2006 election sometimes installed ad hoc policies that often varied by state. The Brazilian Senate reached a compromise Tuesday that would eliminate many of the restrictions on internet use for the presidential race that commences in July. The Chamber of Deputies voted Wednesday to approve the Senate's changes on the internet portions of the bill. The president must sign the bill by Oct. 2.

The internet changes are the most closely watched components of a wider electoral reform, and just about everyone was trying to come across as pushing for greater web freedom.

“It would be impossible to control the internet,” President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Monday in a radio interview.

“People are saying we are trying to regulate the internet, but that would be completely impossible,” said Deputy Flavio Dino, who was responsible for the version of the law that came from the Chamber of Deputies, in an interview with GlobalPost.