The Press in Custody, in Brazil

     The Press in Custody, 
in Brazil

    The Brazilian press
    was not sufficiently shocked by the recent
    massacre in Rio’s Detention Center, nor was able to shock its
    readers. Much less sound the alarm to wake a federal government
    immersed in its dramas of conscience. Worse than lying is silence.
    Silence saps the energy of those who seek action, chills indignation.
    by: Alberto

    Machiavelli’s ideal is a Prince who does not need to answer to his subjects.
    Today, when governments fall silent it is a sign that there is no pressure
    on them to speak, a pressure that can only come from the press.

    If the couple governing
    Rio de Janeiro decided to adopt the silent treatment for four days in order
    to deal with the calamity at the Casa de Custódia (Detention Center)
    in Benfica, it falls to the press to make a federal case out of it.

    Worse than lying is silence.
    Untruths end up being uncovered, but silence demobilizes, saps the energy
    of those who seek action, chills indignation. Above all when public opinion
    begins to be numbed by repetition.

    Anthony Garotinho, the
    "communicator", knew what he was doing when he mysteriously disappeared
    soon after the calamity in Benfica had begun. He was counting on the weekend,
    the providential hiatus invented by Brazilian journalism.

    He could foresee that
    if the news about the uprising, which had begun on Saturday, did not continue
    to grow on Sunday, by Tuesday it would be off the front pages or forgotten.

    Garotinho was wrong: he
    could not imagine the dimensions and degree of brutality of the massacre;
    the case continued to dominate the news until the following Friday.

    But he hit
    the target on the effects: without information, the Carioca
    press was not sufficiently shocked by the episode, nor was able
    to shock its readers. Much less sound the alarm to wake a federal
    government immersed in its dramas of conscience.

    This does not mean that
    O Dia and O Globo, the principal newspapers in Rio, hid their
    coverage. They followed the case in a reasonable way, beginning with the Sunday
    edition of May 30.

    But, what draws the attention
    of the observer is that the most bruising, insistent and dramatic coverage—and
    hence the most journalistic—was that of the daily Extra, of the
    Grupo Globo, the circulation of which is not comparable in quantitative or
    qualitative terms to the two major newspapers mentioned.

    If this emphasis by Extra
    were transferred to O Dia and, above all, to the portentous Globo,
    clearly it would produce a chain reaction, uncontrollable, with quite different
    results. Particularly on the media in São Paulo, which generally has
    more penetration in the political sphere.

    This is the question:
    if the ungovernability of Rio de Janeiro becomes a national issue, will the
    Garotinhos be able to continue unpunished? A short and rude editorial on the
    first page of O Globo, even on Monday (May 31, when there was already
    some idea of the slaughter) would have provoked a political storm quite different
    from the resigned reaction that the episode produced.

    Unmasking Those
    in Power

    And so we must ask: what
    about the Jornal do Brasil?

    JB has abdicated
    its responsibility to do journalism. It looks like a newspaper, comes out
    regularly like a newspaper, has the formal attributes of a newspaper, has
    a history as part of Brazilian journalism, but at this point it is moved by
    different dynamics and priorities than those of a newspaper.

    It may even be reinventing
    journalism, but this is not the journalism for which it was one of the exponents,
    and which continues to be practiced by the majority of its competitors.

    It is clear that the JB
    is in a crisis. Not just in a financial crisis, but an internal crisis.
    Of the nine vice-presidents that adorned its staff before the tragic weekend,
    two journalist vice-presidents were resigning by Friday (Augusto Nunes and
    Cristina Konder) and the name of a third was removed from the staff on Saturday,
    without any notice to the readers (Wilson Figueiredo, with 42 consecutive
    years on staff!)

    The JB still has
    excellent professionals in charge of editing the newspaper, but the company
    and the directorship have forgotten that journalism is not collage of news
    items—journalism is a political commitment to society.

    The proof of this is in
    the Tuesday edition (June 1st), when the dimensions of the Benfica
    massacre were already known, even by the readers of the newspaper themselves.

    On this crucial day, JB
    took stock of the case with an insignificant note on the lower part of the
    front page! Next to it, ten times more prominent, to satisfy the enormous
    contingent of socialites who devour its social columns, an enormous
    photo of a chilly carioca showing off "a basic little jacket". We
    could be talking about brioches.

    And, if that were not
    enough, on Thursday (June 3rd)—after the correct headline
    from the previous day, "Traffickers’ inquisition kills 30 prisoners"—the
    newspaper maliciously retreated to move into the area of business with this
    pearl across eight columns: "Rio exchanges tax for security".

    It is just one more scam
    developed in the Garotinho labs to hide their double incompetency: incompetent
    in looking after public security, and in attracting incautious defenders of
    free enterprise: companies that finance public security will have a 10 percent
    discount on their ICMS (Imposto Sobre Circulação de Mercadoria
    e Serviços—Tax Over Circulation of Goods and Services).

    It has since been discovered
    that this headline was financed by the sponsors of a seminar organized by
    the Grupo JB, with the stunning governor Rosinha starring, turned into a special
    section the following Saturday.

    It would be unfair to
    blame only the Jornal do Brasil. O Dia is also giving indications
    that it doesn’t want to embarrass the political project of the Garotinhos,
    above all after the falling out between the two heirs of the late Ari de Carvalho,
    which transformed the arch-conservative Ronald Levinsohn into a sort of informal
    publisher of the newspaper.

    O Globo has more
    than enough claw to show to the country the débâcle of
    the federal unity where the Organizações Roberto Marinho have
    their headquarters. To delegate this task to the young Extra is a way
    of relegating the Carioca catastrophe to the parochial sphere.

    Not just the invasion
    of Iraq, but in Benfica as well, it became clear that the press is crucial
    for unmasking those in power. Or for innocently furthering their ignoble ends.

    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

    article was originally published in Observatório da
    Imprensa —

    from the Portuguese by Tom Moore. Moore has been fascinated
    by the language and culture of Brazil since 1994. He translates
    from Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and German, and
    is also active as a musician. Comments welcome at

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