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Brazzil - Media - May 2004

Press Too Cozy to Power in Brazil

Brazil's National Federation of Journalists is asking the
to forward to Congress a bill that creates the
Federal Council on Journalism.
This is absurd. They simply
forgot the indispensable separation between government and
press. In the old days, this was called peleguismo (co-option).

Alberto Dines


Picture Older folks will remember the old radio show Hora do Brasil from the times of DIP (Department of Press and Propaganda) and the famous "Aviso aos Navegantes" (Notice to Navigators), frequently followed by "Não há aviso aos navegantes" (there is no notice today).

It was a discussion that went on for years in journalistic circles: if there is no warning on a given day, why announce it at all? Simply to remind navegantes that tomorrow there may be something important concerning buoys and lighthouses along the Brazilian coastline. The non-news piece was still news, because it said that nothing new had happened.

Which leads us to the old Anglo-Saxon saying "no news is good news", which, in turn, reminds us of the old newsroom proverb: a dog biting a person is not news, but a person biting a dog is news.

Taking aside the picturesque differentiation, we should not ignore statistics—it is a fact that news about people bitten by dogs can be highly relevant—and an unforeseen story about a man biting a dog, if repeated, can turn into very boring news.

The Main Point

The controversy created around the ceremony at Planalto Palace to celebrate Journalists' Day, recently, has the same flavor of the Aviso aos navegantes and the little story about bites and dogs.

Communications Minister, Luiz Gushiken, greeted a delegation from the National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj) demanding "good news" from the media, in front of the President of the Republic. In his opinion, the Brazilian people also have the right to be informed about "the positive agenda".

To avoid a misunderstanding, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva hurried in and proposed a "loyal relationship" between the government and the press.

Gushiken's speech, obviously, was fodder for all kinds of front-page headlines, enraged complaints from journalists and furious comments from those who believe they are above good and evil and beyond criticism.

Question: is this the first time anyone complains about the criteria used by contemporary media to air its stories? Is the lamentation and venting off about journalistic procedures by government officials a new thing? Do kings, presidents, emperors or even tyrants consider themselves satisfied with the mirror offered to them by the means of communication?

Is it legitimate to complain about the Judiciary, the bench, federal agencies, the Executive, the Legislative, the IMF and the U.N. while letting the media go on as an indisputable prude?

If media critics are considered to be advancements in world democracy because they offer a counterpoint to the power of the press, all the buzz seems to serve no purpose. Discussing the media is as democratic as protesting against those who want to guide it.

Assessments of media performance are routine when the purpose is to obtain a wide outlook of the political, cultural and/or sociological processes of contemporary history. On April 11th, the media was mentioned by three sources—French sociologist Edgard Morin, British orientalist Bernard Lews and recently deceased sociologist Otávio Ianni. in his last interview—all in just one paper, Folha de S. Paulo.

In this information society, if you don't talk, comment, debate or complain about information media, you are distant from the main issue of our times. Journalists should be the first professionals to remember that journalism today is news, and that news is not always good.

Good Memory

In the competition to see who would beat minister Gushiken up the hardest, one of the reasons for the event that generated the angry exchanges was completely forgotten: the party was organized to help Fenaj; well, Fenaj is asking the government to forward to Congress a bill that creates the Federal Council on Journalism.

This is much more absurd than any governmental complaint against negative news. The Fenaj buddies, inebriated with their proximity to power, simply forgot the indispensable separation between government and press. Like journalistic patronage, professional organizations want to have their place in the sun—a new government agency to be created by the Ministry of Labor and transformed into the highest entity for the class. In the old days, this was called peleguismo (co-option)maybe there is some politically correct designation for it today...

Until the journalistic profession is definitively regulated at a higher judicial level, it makes no sense to create a national council. Anticipation is a juridical aberration. Besides, we need to discuss another serious issue from the deontological and ethical point of view: can journalists be both journalists and press advisors at the same time? Isn't there a serious conflict of interests in this duplicity?

We can't turn away from reality: most unionized journalists today are, in reality, press advisors. Nothing against advising boards and nothing against advisors, but this is a separate profession—just as serious, just as legitimate, just as necessary and respectable. But a future Federal Council of Journalists must not be built on top of mistakes, or its authority will be compromised for the future.

The hard truth is that all the buzz around minister Gushiken's speech buried a debate that can't be hidden from the Brazilian people any longer. In the rhetorical duel about good and bad news, very few people paid attention to the comments by President Lula when he reminded all journalists present at the event about the uselessness of the 1979 strike. Lula didn't go into any detail, but that "wall" was one of our biggest union-related disasters ever and journalists of all generations are still paying for those losses today.

The good news is this: the President of the country has a good memory. Which didn't make the news, by the way.

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 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.

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

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