Disturbing Handcuffs Threaten Brazilian Media

    O Tempo's editor handcuffed.As photos, the sequence is nearly run of the mill. A person in handcuffs in a country where big criminals never allow themselves to be photographed would at most capture our attention for the rarity.

    Dramatic is what is learned from the information in the pictures’ captions or the article next to it. Tragic are the facts: Brazil’s Federal Police agents, the most qualified of our forces, invaded the installations of a newspaper, in a fury, placed two editors under arrest, handcuffing one of the two.


    Not even in President Getúlio Vargas’ sorrowful Estado Novo (New State, late ’30s & ’40s) did such flagrant actions take place. Journalists were sent to exile; press rooms, in disarray; and newspapers, under intervention.


    Those day’s marshals, apparently, had more decency than the ones now – they obeyed orders, but preferred to stay in the shadows, didn’t want to be noticed.


    The lame excuse that Belo Horizonte’s federal agents were following instructions from the Electoral Court is yet more absurd. The magistrate called for a typography search at the newspaper O Tempo, to uncover samples of a clandestine paper that supposedly was being printed there and was infringing election rules.


    All in the conditional tense. The judge did not demand a raid on the newspaper, the editors’ arrest and the handcuffs.


    In the order was not included disorder.


    The Feds applied excessive force in carrying out the judicial order and added to the absurd diligence their baggage of subjectivities. The problem is exactly this: there was no physical violence, the intimidation lasted only 20 minutes, but it reflects a dangerous environment against the media. The confrontational spirit of elections came down on the brave agents of the law.


    It didn’t come by chance, by way of a mediunic act. Suddenly, the press was the cause for the wounds, scapegoat to party politics frustrations and exacerbations.


    The administration is not at fault; leaders of the majority party cannot be blamed for the stupid police action, but it’s imperative to recognize that the retaliation tone toward the proposal of the Federal Council of Journalism and the touchups that the text received while in the hands of the Cabinet irradiated to other spheres and levels of government.


    Media became a sort of Geni (a popular song character, target of all kinds of abuses), a punching bag for the resentful, and above all, the maddened.


    It’s important to point out that the press hasn’t changed, critics of press have. In this election season, the media has remained well within the parameters of the last election, potentially tenser, nevertheless, calm. Therefore, the current tensions and exaltations just aren’t justifiable.


    Imperative it is to bring up that many of the complaints directed at the press are fitting. Otherwise, the Observatório da Imprensa (Press Observatory) would not have existed for as long as it has and with such approval.


    The reality is that the failings aren’t anything new – they took place under former President Itamar Franco, were repeated throughout Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s two terms, and have been extended through the first half of the Lula administration.


    These are chronic malfunctions. The recent surge in accusations and lynching throughout the media isn’t any different from the previous one.


    However, in the past, criticism and accusations aimed at communications vehicles never materialized into actions and retaliations, such as the one occurred on 8/26, in Alterosas.


    By placing the director of O Tempo (The Time), Theodomiro Braga, under arrest, and handcuffing editor Almerindo Camilo without arrest warrant or guilty plea, the Federal Police did not execute the orders of their superiors – they simply played into a charade. They created the climate. And climate, as we know, comes from the Greek, Klima, inclination.


    Before this trend gets out of control, we had better melt this snow ball. If anyone can accomplish that with unquestionable authority and due urgency, that one is the government; regardless whether or not it had their fingers on it.


    Curious were the reactions to this episode. The following day, only Folha de S. Paulo cried foul, recalling the invasion of its installations by IRS agents under orders from former President Collor de Mello. The other big dailies responded bureaucratically.


    The Justice Ministry showed no reaction – forgot that they were arbiters and took part in it. But Supreme Court Chief Justice Sepúlveda Pertence soon noticed the danger and expressed his concern.


    The weekly newsmagazines let the episode slip by in Sunday’s edition. No newspaper opined on the matter. The Monday after, the unprecedented fact had evaporated in its entirety.


    ABI (Brazilian Press Association) promptly and vigorously acted in response, just as it did at the time of the Federal Council of Journalism announcement; so did the Journalists Union of Minas Gerais State.


    And Fenaj (National Federation of Journalists), who portends to being the representative body of journalists and central figure in the dispute dividing Brazilian journalists, has vanished from the map. Left behind are the handcuffs that the Federal Police decided to lay over the landscape of the Brazilian press.


    Alberto Dines, the author, is a journalist, founder and researcher at LABJOR—Laboratório de Estudos Avançados em Jornalismo (Laboratory for Advanced Studies in Journalism) at UNICAMP (University of Campinas) and editor of the Observatório da Imprensa. You can reach him by email at obsimp@ig.com.br


    Translated from the Portuguese by Eduardo Assumpção de Queiroz. He is a freelance translator, with a degree in Business and almost 20 years of experience working in the fields of economics, communications, social and political sciences, and sports. He lives in Boca Raton, FL. His email: eaqus@adelphia.net

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