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Brazzil - Media - August 2004

Brazil: A Decade-Long Lynching

In 1993, the weekly magazine Veja made an error, falsely accusing
House Representative Ibsen Pinheiro of improprieties he never
committed. That article ruined Pinheiro's career and reputation.
Eleven years later, another magazine, Isto É, is uncovering the truth.
The real story, however, is the conspiracy that lasted a decade.

Alberto Dines

Ibsen Pinheiro

Picture Startling Isto É's cover story of 8/18/04 (edition no. 1,819). Not for what is written, but for what is omitted, forgotten, discarded, and shelved. It is one of the greatest libels against the irresponsible conduct of the press in the 1992-93 period.

But likewise, it is a flagrant exposure of the inability of this same press—mostly the weekly news magazines—to shed light on all issues, move ahead as events unfold, and put together all the information within the proper dimension.

If the article in Isto É is an exclusive, as announced, would it not be worthwhile to put it off another week in order to get beyond the facts that took place approximately a decade ago?

This charge against the series of accusations, especially at this moment, cannot be circumscribed to the episodic. It is imperative that all developments and implications be examined to re-establish the entire truth.

The facts are overwhelmingly serious and exceedingly emblematic to be left at the scandalous level. Or are we once again confronted with the uncontrollable compulsion to "make noise" and "muffle it" soon after, by putting it away on a shelf as unfinished business?

Our Dreyfus (the obscure French captain that came under undue suspicion of having provided secret information to the German government in the late 1800's) got crushed as a result of a crafty fabrication, and neither a Zola nor a Clemenceau-like character came out to denounce the nature of the falsehood, the rumor, the intrigue of political rivals, or the stupid mistake in arithmetic.

That incredible "journalistic gaffe", occurred more than a decade ago, removed from the presidential race a quasi-candidate, and this was not brought to the attention of today's readers-voters, thereby making it impossible for them to formulate an opinion as to the morals and ethics of those who feed off power.

Was Isto É only interested in disqualifying the contestant? Or was it serving sectors of the government that think of nothing else but tightening the tourniquet against the press?

The weekly magazine Veja made an error in 1993, but at the time, no one cried foul on behalf of House Representative Ibsen Pinheiro; nor did the now generous IstoÉ. This is the big story.

The "tall tale" by Luis Costa Pinto is insignificant, if compared to the conspiracy of silence, which for the past ten years has kept the real story under covers, hidden from the Brazilian people.

All of the Pinto's accounts are immersed in pain, for the anguish that his article has brought. They deserve some understanding and respect, because we are not sold on the Errata spirit.

Mea-culpas and regrets—either, late or delayed—are still not in our attitude repertoire. Most prefer carrying their sins and misdeeds to the grave. While fellow journalist Ibsen Pinheiro's biography began a process of reconstruction, Costa Pinto's has been compromised. Not for the mistake, but for the delay in fixing it.

Selective Amnesia

Opportunities were there. On Tuesday, may 16, 2000, at 10:30pm—therefore, more than four years ago—the TV show Observatório da Imprensa (Press Observatory) decided to bring face to face the lynchers (old and current ones) and Ibsen Pinheiro, in the studios of TVE, in Rio, to uncover all the intrigues and maneuvers of which Ibsen had been a victim.

There was a storm of protests, above all from segments close to the Workers' Party. They accused the Observatório of condescendence toward the malfeasants; as they now attempt to blame the Observatório for commanding the reaction from media owners against the bizarre idea of a Federal Council of Journalism.

Where was reporter Luís Carlos Pinto, who at that moment missed a magnificent opportunity to rehabilitate the accused and kept himself silent on the days that followed?

Where were the great stars of investigative journalism, who weren't sensitized by the poignant demonstration of innocence during the one-hour show, live, on national TV?

And where was Fenaj (National Federation of Journalists), who for so many years has shown concern—as they claim—for professional ethics and fighting abuses?

In February, this year, when the name Waldomiro Diniz appeared all over the news, much was said about his role as supplier to then House Representatives Aloízio Mercadante and José Dirceu, in the investigations of the Budgetary Congressional Inquiry Commission, which led up to the impeachment of the former Speaker of the House.

No one recalled his role as the one who fed the slander against Ibsen Pinheiro, relative to the transfer of 1 million dollars from one account to another. Amnesia.

Discreet Note

If the press purports to be the registry of civil society, it cannot allow itself such memory lapses. If amidst the haste of deadlines and the frenzy of accusations not a single journalist around the editorial rooms steps forward with the guts to shout, "stop the press!", to search for the truth where no one is looking into, then we are completely and definitely screwed.

A diploma in medicine isn't necessary to sense that our media is suffering from Alzheimer and our Congress has Parkinson's: one dangerously forgetful, the other clearly unsteady.

Because of three extra zeroes (in the original allegations, "confusion" in currency conversion transformed one thousand into one million) we have gone through one of the biggest humiliations in our history.

The ridiculous error in arithmetic created an appalling media lynching that an irresponsible Legislative and its sly foxes turned into a clamorous injustice.

Who is going to indemnify Ibsen Pinheiro? Does João Paulo Cunha, Speaker of the House and current boss of reporter Luís Costa Lima, intend to organize a solemn session to reinstate the former colleague?

In this nation, where self-esteem lacks and arrogance is abundant, will someone sufficiently noble, dignified, and decent come forward to apologize?

Voters in Porto Alegre will have a chance in October, when Ibsen Pinheiro will re-launch his political career as city councilman.

The media, certainly, will opt for a side note in "Errata".

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.

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