The Press in Custody, in Brazil

 The Press in Custody, 
  in Brazil

The Brazilian press
was not sufficiently shocked by the recent
massacre in Rio’s Detention Center, nor was able to shock its
readers. Much less sound the alarm to wake a federal government
immersed in its dramas of conscience. Worse than lying is silence.
Silence saps the energy of those who seek action, chills indignation.
by: Alberto

Machiavelli’s ideal is a Prince who does not need to answer to his subjects.
Today, when governments fall silent it is a sign that there is no pressure
on them to speak, a pressure that can only come from the press.

If the couple governing
Rio de Janeiro decided to adopt the silent treatment for four days in order
to deal with the calamity at the Casa de Custódia (Detention Center)
in Benfica, it falls to the press to make a federal case out of it.

Worse than lying is silence.
Untruths end up being uncovered, but silence demobilizes, saps the energy
of those who seek action, chills indignation. Above all when public opinion
begins to be numbed by repetition.

Anthony Garotinho, the
"communicator", knew what he was doing when he mysteriously disappeared
soon after the calamity in Benfica had begun. He was counting on the weekend,
the providential hiatus invented by Brazilian journalism.

He could foresee that
if the news about the uprising, which had begun on Saturday, did not continue
to grow on Sunday, by Tuesday it would be off the front pages or forgotten.

Garotinho was wrong: he
could not imagine the dimensions and degree of brutality of the massacre;
the case continued to dominate the news until the following Friday.

But he hit
the target on the effects: without information, the Carioca
press was not sufficiently shocked by the episode, nor was able
to shock its readers. Much less sound the alarm to wake a federal
government immersed in its dramas of conscience.

This does not mean that
O Dia and O Globo, the principal newspapers in Rio, hid their
coverage. They followed the case in a reasonable way, beginning with the Sunday
edition of May 30.

But, what draws the attention
of the observer is that the most bruising, insistent and dramatic coverage—and
hence the most journalistic—was that of the daily Extra, of the
Grupo Globo, the circulation of which is not comparable in quantitative or
qualitative terms to the two major newspapers mentioned.

If this emphasis by Extra
were transferred to O Dia and, above all, to the portentous Globo,
clearly it would produce a chain reaction, uncontrollable, with quite different
results. Particularly on the media in São Paulo, which generally has
more penetration in the political sphere.

This is the question:
if the ungovernability of Rio de Janeiro becomes a national issue, will the
Garotinhos be able to continue unpunished? A short and rude editorial on the
first page of O Globo, even on Monday (May 31, when there was already
some idea of the slaughter) would have provoked a political storm quite different
from the resigned reaction that the episode produced.

Unmasking Those
in Power

And so we must ask: what
about the Jornal do Brasil?

JB has abdicated
its responsibility to do journalism. It looks like a newspaper, comes out
regularly like a newspaper, has the formal attributes of a newspaper, has
a history as part of Brazilian journalism, but at this point it is moved by
different dynamics and priorities than those of a newspaper.

It may even be reinventing
journalism, but this is not the journalism for which it was one of the exponents,
and which continues to be practiced by the majority of its competitors.

It is clear that the JB
is in a crisis. Not just in a financial crisis, but an internal crisis.
Of the nine vice-presidents that adorned its staff before the tragic weekend,
two journalist vice-presidents were resigning by Friday (Augusto Nunes and
Cristina Konder) and the name of a third was removed from the staff on Saturday,
without any notice to the readers (Wilson Figueiredo, with 42 consecutive
years on staff!)

The JB still has
excellent professionals in charge of editing the newspaper, but the company
and the directorship have forgotten that journalism is not collage of news
items—journalism is a political commitment to society.

The proof of this is in
the Tuesday edition (June 1st), when the dimensions of the Benfica
massacre were already known, even by the readers of the newspaper themselves.

On this crucial day, JB
took stock of the case with an insignificant note on the lower part of the
front page! Next to it, ten times more prominent, to satisfy the enormous
contingent of socialites who devour its social columns, an enormous
photo of a chilly carioca showing off "a basic little jacket". We
could be talking about brioches.

And, if that were not
enough, on Thursday (June 3rd)—after the correct headline
from the previous day, "Traffickers’ inquisition kills 30 prisoners"—the
newspaper maliciously retreated to move into the area of business with this
pearl across eight columns: "Rio exchanges tax for security".

It is just one more scam
developed in the Garotinho labs to hide their double incompetency: incompetent
in looking after public security, and in attracting incautious defenders of
free enterprise: companies that finance public security will have a 10 percent
discount on their ICMS (Imposto Sobre Circulação de Mercadoria
e Serviços—Tax Over Circulation of Goods and Services).

It has since been discovered
that this headline was financed by the sponsors of a seminar organized by
the Grupo JB, with the stunning governor Rosinha starring, turned into a special
section the following Saturday.

It would be unfair to
blame only the Jornal do Brasil. O Dia is also giving indications
that it doesn’t want to embarrass the political project of the Garotinhos,
above all after the falling out between the two heirs of the late Ari de Carvalho,
which transformed the arch-conservative Ronald Levinsohn into a sort of informal
publisher of the newspaper.

O Globo has more
than enough claw to show to the country the débâcle of
the federal unity where the Organizações Roberto Marinho have
their headquarters. To delegate this task to the young Extra is a way
of relegating the Carioca catastrophe to the parochial sphere.

Not just the invasion
of Iraq, but in Benfica as well, it became clear that the press is crucial
for unmasking those in power. Or for innocently furthering their ignoble ends.

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

article was originally published in Observatório da
Imprensa —

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. Comments welcome at

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