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Brazzil - Media - May 2004

Too Many Crooks Run the Media in Brazil

Brazil is living an enormous misunderstanding: the press imagines
that it is competent to inform, the government imagines that
is competent to truncate information, and the people
imagine that they will be able to continue to survive indefinitely
with the pap that the press and government present to them as reality.

Alberto Dines


Picture The bubble was expanding, general euphoria, no one wanted to see the problems or notice the pitfalls. Everyone was betting on technology and on markets. Quality was not an issue; it was enough to import some international consultants and journalists would rapidly relearn how to do journalism.

Decapitalized media companies, without strategic projects and experienced staff, nevertheless invested heavily. Those who didn't grow would be left behind. Nothing could stop that virile press, recently escaping censorship, which even when censored, had managed to topple a president.

On April 12-14, 1994, on the campus of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), the workshop "A Imprensa em Questão" (Looking at the Press) sponsored by IBM takes place. A quick look at the proceedings of the meeting shows that, in spite of euphoria, the more experienced journalists, trained before 1964, were concerned with the inordinate excitement. [See the introductory texts to the book "A Imprensa em Questão", which published the proceedings of the workshop].

Labjor was born (Laboratory of Advanced Studies in Journalism), thanks to the commitment of the rector of Unicamp at the time, Carlos Vogt (still its coordinator today). It was meant to be a center of interdisciplinary studies, and at the same time, a project for raising social consciousness. The press needed to be discussed in all spheres, and by the society which it ought to serve.

Over the course of two years Labjor held interdisciplinary seminars, offered extension course, colloquia (inside and outside academia), and a program of continuing education for professors of Journalism throughout Brazil. One of these events, the Communication Seminar of the Bank of Brazil, will celebrate its tenth session in 2004; and the master's program in Scientific Journalism (lato sensu) will soon graduate its third class.

At the second "A Imprensa em Questão" seminar, presented with FIESP, the need to alter article 222 of the constitution was discussed for the first time by businesspeople, economists, and labor leaders.

Jobs were evaporating, media companies were suffocating without access to capital markets, and it was obvious that marketing tricks, promotions, and offers would not be able to give the Brazilian media the support it needed for a leap forward. It was necessary to change the constitution so that companies could change their shareholding structure—or there would be widespread bankruptcy.

In that month of April 1996, at a meeting of Labjor, we recognized that the questions raised at the different events needed to be aired and legitimated by public debate. Journalist Mauro Malin, recently added to the founding group, suggested a bulletin on the Internet.

Launched thereafter, initially without a fixed schedule of publication, later biweekly, and finally weekly—with the name of Observatório da Imprensa (Press Observer, borrowed from the fraternal Portuguese entity). [Beginning in April 2002, the Observatório da Imprensa came to be part of Projor—Institute for the Development of Journalism.]

At the end of 1997, the journalist Alexandre Machado, then director of journalism of TV Educativa, in Rio de Janeiro, suggested a TV program in the same open and combative style as the site. The television version of Observatório da Imprensa was created, and launched the following year. (It did not go on air in April for technical reasons: the first transmission was May 5, 1998.) Weeks later, the program became part of the schedule of TV Cultura of São Paulo.

In the first edition of this Observatório, only one denunciation—against the president of the Senate, José Sarney, who had shelved the project to create a Council on Communications. Eight years and 275 issues later, the reader can evaluate the road we have taken together. And, also to lament the poverty of our political cast, with the same José Sarney hanging on to the perks and advantages of the position of eminence grise (see the first online edition of the Observatório da Imprensa at http://observatorio.ultimosegundo.ig.com.br/obsabril/observ.html.

Until now, ours seems to be a history of successes. The inevitable corollary: success for the critics means the failure of those criticized. The more one reveals the faults of an arrogant and lame media, the greater the gap between it and its public.

A Faithful Mirror?

Brazil is living an enormous misunderstanding: the press imagines that it is competent to inform, the government imagines that is competent to truncate information, and the governed imagine that they will be able to continue to supply themselves indefinitely with the pap that the press and government present to them as reality.

In each of the concentric crises which we have been passing through, the volume of facts which are omitted or distorted is infinitely greater than those recognized as true. In the information age, this is tragic.

American society was deceived by its leaders with the complicity of the media, but little by little, thanks to pockets of journalistic integrity, it is beginning to perceive the truth.

Here in Brazil, in spite of disagreement and competition, there seems to be a petit bourgeois plot between suppliers and consumers of news to camouflage uncomfortable things, and in their place, to offer pleasantries.

A great journalistic pool seems to control the intensity and duration of coverage. Everything is over in a blink, and rarely lasts past the weekend. The Caras style of journalism reigns even in political and institutional coverage—in the next issue, the same thing once again.

As investigative work, and as a portrait of the entrenched corruption in government, the journalistic feats of the Diário de S. Paulo and the Folha de S. Paulo in denouncing the scandalous auctions of trash in the city of São Paulo are much more serious than the wiretap produced by one delinquent (Carlinhos Cachoeira) incriminating another (Waldomiro Diniz). And yet, since it is more complicated, demands more space and more skill to cover, it will be rapidly thrown in the big trash can of forgotten scandals.

From the massacre of the prospectors to the judicial decree clearing senator Antônio Carlos Magalhães in the matter of the megawiretap in Bahia, from the wardrobe of Rosinha Matheus at the meeting of governors to the dinner of support from the intellectuals for José Dirceu organized by a company presenting events, from the pounding on the table in Brasília to the Mayday brunch offered at the Casa Fasano to the labor elites in São Paulo—everything recalls Marie Antoinette, the airhead who lost her head.

Just that at the end of the eighteenth century in Paris there were only satirical pasquinades, and at the beginning of the twenty-first it is the convention that the press should be the faithful mirror of what is happening.

The Brands

The exchange of slaps between the protagonists of the Celebridades TV soap opera and the heroic ascent of the hillsides of Rocinha by socialites on the Dia do Carinho (Affection Day) are two snapshots of a society that turns itself over to banality with immense pleasure.

This conviviality with violence is not the fault of the police but of the absence of moral values which the press used to honor. The agile press of Rio reinvented social-column journalism in the fifties, and social-columnism is reinventing carioca journalism a half-century later.

There are so many crooks in the media that soon we will have to revise history and view Assis Chateaubriand as a lord and old Geraldo Rocha as a gentleman. TV presenteer Ratinho was already whitewashed, and soon others will be rehabilitated, inspired by commissioner Duda Mendonça.

With grammar murdered, a commitment to exactness filed away, ethics debased by the excessive number of workshops to study it, all that is left is the ideological alibi. "I am on the left"—and so anything goes, including brickbats pitched at the right.

With this picture of piled-up deficiencies, it can be understood why the press is not able to cover the developments in the news about itself. It deceived the readers in the period of the bubble, and continues to do so when it comes time to pay the bill with the help of BNDES.

There is something disheartening in the triumphs collected over the last decade by the Labjor-Observatório da Imprensa project. Not because its observation is off the mark, or its observers deceived.

The microscope of the Labjor logo, and the Observatório's are in perfect condition. The problem is with those being observed. It is more comfortable to keep the critical eye shut.

[The Labjor logo was created by the designer Ana Waldman Vogt (1976-1995); that of Observatório da Imprensa is by Fernanda Leonardo.]

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 Imprensawww.observatoriodaimprensa.com.br.
Translated 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. He is the librarian for music, modern languages and media at The College of New Jersey. Comments welcome at mooret@tcnj.edu.

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