Brazil: When the Media Gets in Bed with Power

    
Brazil: When the Media Gets in Bed with Power

    Strapped for money, the Brazilian media has just stepped into a

    minefield
    by announcing its
    formal proposal for procurement of federal
    financing.
    All interlocutors involved are conscious of their own
    responsibilities. The federal government, however, is not hiding its
    own assessment
    that the state of the media is a matter of national interest.

    by:

    Alberto Dines

     

    The handsome reprint of front pages of newspaper editions issued during these 50 years since Petrobras was founded
    is an invitation to reflect on the role of the press in our political history. No mention was made to the contribution of UDN
    (União Democrática Nacional—National Democratic Union party) and the role of people such as Bilac Pinto and Juracy
    Magalhães in making our largest company a reality—a lapse which must have been accidental. This timely incursion into the tunnel
    of time, however, serves the purpose of strengthening the conviction that an alert and diligent journalism is essential for
    building a national memory.

    Just a few days prior, the media stepped into a minefield by announcing its formal proposal for procurement of
    BNDES (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social—National Bank for Economic and Social Development)
    financing. On one side, the joint communication by ANJ, Aner and Abert—organizations congregating newspapers,
    magazines, radio and TV—shows a healthy disposition for transparency and an unequivocal disposition for independence. On the
    other side, however, we have the circumstances in which these negotiations are to occur, which are quite serious.

    All interlocutors involved are conscious of this seriousness and their own respective responsibilities; thus their
    willingness to sit down at the discussion table. But this is exactly the disquieting factor. The federal government is not hiding
    its own assessment that the state of the media is a matter of national interest. In other words, the present economic situation
    of the largest communication industries in the country has the dimensions of a systemic crisis.

    The perception is correct and the reaction legitimate. At the same time, we need to take into account that, in spite of
    all the festivities announcing `the end of the hard times’, the image of this administration is showing signs of wearing.

    When examined separately, such diagnoses would not be enough to make any alarms go off. Together and
    juxtaposed, however, they bring chills. This is because we are not dealing with a seasonal or temporary situation able to correct
    itself on the short or middle run. We are actually talking about setting up a completely new design and structure, with
    enduring features, for the media in this country.

    Special Treatment

    When President Campos Salles (1898-1902) saved newspapers from their stifling conditions, the newly established
    rules, albeit informal, remained widely accepted for the next 100 years. As uncomfortable as it may be, that episode should
    serve as a reference today.

    With the background of the 2004 elections (decisive for obtaining a presidential reelection), the press will lose its,
    shall we say, spontaneity, if it remains conditioned by negotiations about its future. And this administration is not one to fool
    around. It may be new, but it is experienced in the age-old science of exercising power.

    Enough to prove it was the government’s promptness in punishing the insurgence of Senator Antonio Carlos
    Magalhães—until now simply ranked as a friendly adversary—by reopening with full force the case of the
    megagrampo (mega phone tapping) in Bahia, almost forgiven and forgotten by now.

    On the other hand, the media brings its pleas at a horrible time. The
    Caso Gugu (Gugu is a famous TV personality)
    is not an isolated or accidental affair but, in fact, the tip of a gigantic iceberg, encompassing much more than a TV
    network and all the sub-gugus and
    anti-gugus of recent newscasts.

    The presenter in question is a paradigm of a hybrid species of journalism-plus-circus which grew out of the shadow
    of the complacency—and sometimes even complicity—of the printed media. Let’s just remember the ill-will of all the
    freedom of expression doomsayers when José Gregori, then Minister of Justice, tried to fit television filth into appropriate time slots.

    Is this the media that a government committed with change wants as a partner? Where is the trade-off to be offered
    to taxpayers-readers-listeners-viewers that something is going to change in the quality of the information and entertainment
    they consume? What are the guarantees that the borrowers will offer their financiers towards establishing the right conditions
    for a system of communication that is less precarious and less subject to the seduction of bubbles, fads and illusions?

    The situation is too serious to be left alone and to destroy in its berth the possibility of a "historical commitment"
    between the First Power and that which once flaunted the title of Fourth Power. But this is precisely the time in which we must
    remember what has caused this crisis to acquire such proportions in the first place. The crisis was brought on by a
    management model and decision-making process that excluded journalists, the very professionals that have the strongest vocation to
    accept and face the responsibilities of the press before our society.

    Had journalists been consulted to begin with, the announcement by the three organizations in question would not
    have been broadcast with such reserve. This reserve is compromising and it confronts the text itself. The media cannot
    deserve "special treatment" in the media—or in any other institution, for that matter.

    On the other hand, it is indispensable for both parties to review all alternatives before going forward in their negotiations.

    Some business minds of a more pessimistic (or realistic) orientation have stated that the crisis of the media has only
    two ways out: BNDES or foreign investment. Others are alerting the country against the danger of a
    Midiabrás. One more reason for bringing an issue of this gravity out from the shadows.

     

    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. He also writes a column on cultural issues for the Rio daily
    Jornal do Brasil. You can reach him by email at
    obsimp@ig.com.br


    Originally published in Jornal do Brasil _
    www.jb.com.br -, on October 4, 2003.

    Translated by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an
    accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact:
    terezab@sbcglobal.net

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