Too Many Crooks Run the Media in Brazil

 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.
by: Alberto

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

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

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

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

This article was
originally published in Observatório da Imprensa —

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

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