Go Back

Brazzil - Media - August 2004

Brazil's Lula, the Dictator's Apprentice

The series of allegations that is making Brazil's rulers lose sleep
was once welcome and encouraged by oppositions to the former
administration, who viewed the disclosures as fruits of legitimate
"investigative journalism." Journalists don't need to be protected
by the Executive. They need protection from the Judiciary.

Alberto Dines


Picture Tormented by a storm of accusations from portions of the Brazilian press against members of the economic team, the Lula administration has opted for a disastrous solution: it submitted to Congress an archaic and controversial proposal for the creation of the Federal Council of Journalism.

In an explanatory note, Brazil's Labor Minister, Ricardo Berzoini, states openly that the new entity will "guide, discipline, and police" the practice of the journalistic profession. He goes on to say that "currently, there isn't an institution with legal capacity to regulate, police, and punish inadequate conducts by journalists."

The initiative is the most inept and perplexing ever engendered within the press sphere by an administration, since the re-democratization in 1985, not only in spirit, but also in the its harshly authoritative and corporative form.

The opportunity, the justification, and the content couldn't have been more dreadful and inconvenient. It seems like a tribute to the omnipotent Estado Novo ("New State", reference to late President Vargas' program under his dictatorial regime of the 30's, 40's, and 50's), with a touch of Mussolini, George W. Bush, and Hugo Chavez.

It mixes oranges with apples, suspects the existence of a problem within the nation's media but is incapable of identifying it, and obviously, heads off in the opposite direction of the correct solution.

The problem in our news media isn't with the professionals, but the concentration of media outlets, cross-ownership, and above all, certain news organizations that disregard responsibilities and neglect their social role in favor of privileges available under the Constitution.

The current wave of accusations carries the signature of respectful journalists, but it is inflated by certain media outfits assaulted by predators who are committed to serving opposed interests and nibble bits of power.

The leaks in secret procedures unveil wrongdoings, but ultimately, they unveil the thick layer of rust that clogs up our transparency model.

The series of allegations that is making this administration lose sleep was once welcome and encouraged by oppositions to the former administration, who viewed the disclosures as fruits of legitimate "investigative journalism."

The professionals who became experts in transcribing phone taps from questionable sources were never forced to do so—they gave in to the temptation of glory bestowed by organizations that mistake journalistic independence with dependence to shady origins of funds.

Labor Minister Ricardo Berzoini—or those who enticed him into signing that nonsense—is at the very least being naïve in the thinking that the practice of engineering, chemistry, or architecture is comparable to that of the news line of work.

He embarked on a sinking boat of simplism, believing that a National Council of Engineering is the same as a Federal Council of Journalism. Perhaps inspired by Lourival Fontes (late journalist and former Chief of Staff of President Vargas in the early 50's), the Minister decided to resuscitate the ghosts of subservience and patronize old ideals of corporativism.

Spasms and Juggleries

Journalists don't need to be protected by the Executive; on the contrary, they need to untangle themselves from the political ropes of power. Journalism must be carried out free of dubious constraints and affiliations. Journalists need protection, indeed, but protection from the Judiciary.

This is the equation politically correct and morally defensible. If there are judges who place their personal interests under an untouchable constitutional clause that allows for the supremacy of freedom of expression over all other rights, then the behavior of such judges must be made public.

The original formula regarding the balance of power was conceived by Montesquieu, and later, when adopted by patriarchs of the North-American Republic, the press became the Fourth-Power, an independent and effective counter-power.

With journalists sponsored by an entity created by the federal government, and whose books will be under the scrutiny of the Union Accounting Office, what kind of journalism will society be offered?

If the law of the jungle in effect around obscure corners of our media truly is a concern, the government should immediately bring forth the debate over the establishment of a regulatory agency, modeled after the American FCC (Federal Communications Commission), created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or its British counter-part, IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority). This is the correct path, democratic, liberal, and libertarian, effectively progressive.

By coincidence, at the same time the government was ready to publish the exotic arbitrary measure in the Diário Oficial (the nation's official register), the candidate John Kerry promised at a rally in Washington to fight off the concentration of media conglomerates precisely through the FCC.

Instead of garnering sympathy from a group of journalists, particularly the dwellers of public relations offices of state agencies, the government should seek sympathy from readers. They are the ones most interested in sound journalism, free of marketing juggleries and sensationalistic spasms.

Journalists and a Bar Association

As to the question of the National Council of Journalism (CNJ), it is not fair to put all the blame solely on the government, nor Fenaj (National Federation of Journalists). It's imperative that CUT (Central Única dos Trabalhadores, one of the nation's most powerful workers' union) also be included.

As soon as the more radical segment of CUT was handed control of Fenaj, the interests of journalists and journalism in Brazil became subject to their ambitions, idiosyncrasies, and dogmas; rarely with good intentions.

CUT doesn't fool around: it's not enough for them to have authority over the National Federation of Journalists, the entity representative of Brazilian journalists. Command of the press is what CUT wants, to impose their rules, priorities, and "ethics". To seize the Fourth-Power.

Because ABI (Brazilian Press Association) was going through a wear and tear process—fortunately interrupted—strategists from CUT-Fenaj conceived of an entity capable of taking its place in a maneuver to ditch civil liberties.

Along with the Bar Association (OAB) and the National Confederation of Bishops (CNBB), ABI's role in mobilizing the nation to bring about the end of the military regime was still very present. Therefore, CUT-Fenaj felt the need for a political organization, above trade unions, more fitting of their project to gain power.

CUT-Fenaj want to own the profession, own the search for truth; hence, own the absolute truth. He who disagrees is no longer journalist; he who doesn't abide by their criteria must change profession. They planted a wedge in the news profession, equating it to press secretaries.

Since Fenaj is currently ruled by press secretaries (mostly employed by communications departments within the administration), Fenaj's journalistic ideals and ethics will be reinforced via its illegitimate son, the Federal Council of Journalism.

All Mine

Nothing against press secretaries and communications advisors: they are essential in the planning of mobilizing events and carrying out informative programs. But that is merely display and exposure.

Under objective and subjective perspectives, this is not journalism; it is targeted and biased communication. And journalists are impartial communicators. The difference between the two occupations—equally respectable—is simply that; small, yet transcendental.

If CUT-Fenaj dreamed of a Bar Association of Journalists, why didn't they create one? Why not gather the professionals and start the National Bar Association of Journalists? Just like its inspirer, a Bar Association of Journalists would look out for quality, ethics, and defend the practice of journalism.

That wasn't the goal: CUT-Fenaj already have journalists on a leash. Now, they want to conquer journalism.

This article was originally published in Observatório da Imprensa — www.observatoriodaimprensa.com.br.

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.
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.

Discuss it in our Forum

Send your comments to Brazzil

Anything to say about Brazil or Brazilians? Brazzil
wishes to publish your material. See what to do.