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Brazzil - Media - January 2004

Brazil's Lula Gives the Press a Hard Time. Again.

The Brazilian government is operating on a climate of electoral
campaigning and the press is not. Out of step with each other,
they leave room for all kinds of misunderstandings. President
Lula da Silva made clear what he thinks: "News is the stuff
we don't want to see published; the rest is advertising".

Alberto Dines


The new onslaught on the press by the government—the second this month—has aggravating circumstances:

** It was voiced this time by Chief of Staff José Dirceu, supposedly a rational politician, skillful negotiator, very little prone to emotional explosions and, considering the sum of his personal powers and attributes, almost a prime-minister.

** He was the first one to voice out in public—even before president Lula da Silva took office—the idea that the press was a matter of national interest.

** Based on that statement, which was considered a green light, the Brazilian corporate media felt encouraged to submit to BNDS (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico—National Economic Development Bank) a formal plea for a privileged line of credit.

** The attack, this time, was also fired against the federal departments, who were supposedly colluding with the press for broadcasting its investigations. What happened, however, was that Conamp and ANPR, the organizations representing the MP (Ministério Público—Public Prosecutor Office, promptly and courageously contested the accusations of minister José Dirceu (O Globo, Monday 1/19, page 3). They were not followed, however, by the organizations representing the press. Rather, they retreated silently. Some political journalists protested in isolation (Dora Kramer, Estado de S. Paulo and Jornal do Brasil, Monday 1/19) but as institutions, newspapers were mostly mute. They control the right to respond but did not feel compelled to exercise it democratically. Exceptions made to the same Estadão and to Globo, who published editorials four days after the onslaught by the minister (Tuesday, 1/20).

** On the same day that minister José Dirceu struck his blow (Friday, 1/16, next day papers), the president of BNDES, Carlos Lessa, usually in a good mood, forgot about about his proverbial carioca bonhomie and played hard on the press, making fun of it for the 34 times he was "fired" from his jobs. Please note that Carlos Lessa, due to the position he occupies now, will be the one to give the final word on the plea by the media for a special line of credit.

These are the factors of the equation. Now the analysis:

** The declarations made by minister José Dirceu occurred in the midst of a redress ceremony dedicated to his friend and comrade Congressman Luiz Eduardo Greenhalgh (PT-SP), whose name was featured in the news linked to torture sessions supposedly practiced against one of the alleged assassins of Mayor Celso Daniel. Only one newspaper, Folha, featured the accusation apparently leaked by the members of MP following the case. No other major newspaper followed up on the information. That reaction was justified by the irresponsible nature of the accusations.

** But the government, who complains so much about the generalizations committed by the means of communication, did the exact same thing: it generalized—although the minister had referred to "sectors of the press". He extended to an institution—the Press—the mistake commited by one of its parts. Was he afraid of Folha or did he prefer to beat an abstract victim?

** Meanwhile, this same press—theorically agile and attentive to the public interest and thus deserving special attention from the government—gave in to summertime sluggishness: it showed no reaction at all. There was no time? Don't newspapers come out every day? Don't they draft on Friday the editorials for Saturday, Sunday and Monday? If the matter can be postponed for four or five days, what is the reason for the hurry and flurry and their proclaimed commitment with actuality?

** The Federal Departments-Press or Fourth Power-Sixth Power collusion, if it in fact exists, was created during a time when the PT was opposition and the order of the day was a systematic everything-goes to weaken the government. The leaking of secret information became a common practice because it was immediately transformed into glowing speeches in the House and in the Senate by the indefatigable opposition leaderships.

** The remarkable bad mood of Carlos Lessa was not a random occurrence. He mocked the press heavily, following the boastful attitude of governor Roberto Requião, stating before reporters that he had come to the nation's capital to protect the president of BNDES from the ministerial shake-up. If a character with the moral and professional stature of Carlos Lessa needs protection of this kind, then all the 34 rumors about an eventual replacement make sense.

The larger truth is that the government is operating on a climate of electoral campaigning and the press is not. Out of step with each other, they leave room for all kinds of misunderstandings. Including that ABC in Journalism uttered by president Lula da Silva in the ceremony to close the year: "News is the stuff we don't want to see published; the rest is advertising".

During campaigns, what candidates want is praise. If the press made a mistake, the mistake was not being smart enough to perceive that this was the worst time to ask for anything from a government on a permanent state of electoral mobilization.

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