<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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Scent of a Coup in Latest News on Workers’ Party

The Power of the Media and the Political Crisis in Brazil

By Renato Rovai
Fórum Magazine

July 1, 2005

I have been to Venezuela twice recently. Both visits lasted about fifteen days. The first one was in the week following the coup attempt. I was there with the photographer Satoru Takaesu. We arrived with but one contact – Gregorio Salazar, General Secretary of the National Press Workers’ Union. He was our guide. Gentle, helpful and anti-Chávez, he showed us everything that, in his opinion, would make the coup attempt justifiable.

Strange as it may seem, a solicitous journalist who truly seemed to believe in democratic values defended the coup. He denounced some excesses on the part of the group of Pedro Carmona – the entrepreneur who closed the Congress, deposed the Supreme Court, ripped apart the Constitution and lasted only 28 hours as the President, but he believed that such attitudes were justified because on the opposing political faction was Chávez.

In all TV programs and in the most widely read newspapers and magazines in Venezuela, Salazar’s words seemed to make sense. The local media proclaimed in unison its hatred toward Chávez.

The media coverage of the latest episodes that point to a supposed corruption scheme in the formation of the Brazilian government’s congressional base is very similar to what happened in our neighboring country. There is an added touch of subtlety: the persecution is not centered on the figure of the President, as in Venezuela, but in its political party, the Workers’ Party (PT in its Portuguese initials). There is indeed a problem here that must be investigated, and it is the function of serious journalism to proceed with this investigation, through interviews and the collection of documents. These actions of the press strengthen democracy. This is what the press is expected to do.

And this is how the press was expected to act during the privatization of the telephone companies and other utilities in Brazil. At that time, the scandals did not have to be muffled by the government – the media took care of it. The late journalist Aloysio Biondi, acting in a quixotic manner, persistently tried to call the readers’ attention to this, but his articles, published twice per week in the daily Folha de São Paulo, were never given a visible placement in the newspaper. Instead, he once confided me that when he was offered a proposal to write a daily column for the Diário Popular, for slightly higher compensation, the Folha made a counterproposal of an even better wage to write one single weekly column for them. He took that as an attempt to silence his voice, and joined the Diário. His book, The Privatized Brazil, full of scandalous evidence about corruption in the privatization process, sold more than 100 thousand copies, but it was given very little attention in the media. No anti-PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party, the party of former president Fernando Cardoso) movement arose because of Biondi’s denouncements.

This is what it is all about. The Brazilian media is heralding a violent campaign against the PT. Should it ever become fully developed, it will act against all that the party represents – or at one time more firmly represented. It will not be an attack against whatever is spoiled in its ranks.

Media editorials and PSDB congressmen suggest that Lula will have to break up with the PT if he wants to finish his presidential term. This pressure stems from the accusation that the PT’s treasurer paid a monthly sum of money to all the deputies from PP and PL in exchange for political support. Curiously, nothing is said about these deputies. It is the duty of serious journalism to make a thorough investigation of the supposed “mensalão” scandal (that name referring to the alleged monthly payments).

It is important to point out that in this campaign against the PT, not only the party is under attack but also some of the principles it defends. The movement in favor of privatizations as a way of reducing governmental corruption is active again. Radio and TV newscasters’ comments, as well as those of economic analysts, follow this trend.

At the same time that it denounces the PT’s supposed involvement with corruption, the media attacks its political credibility. Even though the media supports the current economic policy, lately it has taken to voice the opinions of those who criticize the PT for having abandoned its historical principles and surrendered to capitalist logic. In Venezuela, the media campaign against Chávez lasted for almost two years before the attempted coup that Fórum magazine defined as a combined effort of the armed forces and the media. The image of an authoritarian and self-aggrandizing Chávez – as presented by Veja magazine of Brazil in its September 12, 2002 issue (“The fall of the boastful president”) – was carefully built. In the name of freedom of press, a recent issue of the Veja (with a circulation of more than 1 million copies) presented an article without a single identified source accusing Marta Suplicy, former mayor of São Paulo, of corruption. Veja’s version of press freedom would never permit a compliment to Chávez or any other Latin American leftist leader.

We are obviously dealing with a supervised freedom, the limits of which are set by the owners of the information companies and their watchdogs, who crack their whips over journalists’ backs – as is well known by anyone who has ever had experiences in these newsrooms. These same journalists can attest to how these companies, self-proclaimed paladins of morality, systematically disrespect workers’ rights. Or how they cut commercial deals that grant their clients editorial space.

Investigating the PT and its leaders strengthens democracy. So does keeping tabs on the government. The press must have freedom to do that – to fulfill its duty. But there is a line between investigation, surveillance and persecution. In our society, citizenship is, in a certain way, guaranteed by the information we receive, and when the media deliberately puts aside concern for the reliability of the information it passes along and responsibility for its opinions, there is no other name to call it but a persecutory campaign. All it takes is to follow the editorial line from Veja’s last issue, and the stage will be set for the coup. The rottenness from Veja may contaminate Brazilian democracy.

It wouldn’t be the first time that “freedom of press” takes an active role in a coup in Brazil – with the difference, this time, that nothing indicates that the armed forces will be mobilized. Nowadays, it is desirable that the media act on its own, so as not to disturb “democracy.”

Renato Rovai, a professor at the 2003 session of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, is the editor of Fórum magazine, where this article originally appeared in Portuguese.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America