Brazil: Elections and censorship

First, thanks to my son, Adam, for pointing out the case of a Brazilian news program anchor who resigned because of pressure by a state government to censor the new.

And second, why should anyone care about what happens in Brazilian media?

I want to address the second part first.

Journalists, policy makers and citizens around the world should care about what happens to Brazilian press freedom because Brazil is a major player in the world’s economy.

One of the things the rulers in China figured out real fast is that to be a credible player in the world marketplace, people had to trust your economic numbers and reports. So it should have been no surprise to anyone that the first cracks in the censorship and control of media in China came in the reporting of business and economic affairs.

(Unfortunately for the rulers, once journalists and the public got a taste of a bit of freedom, they wanted more. The openings granted by the censors led to numerous reports of official and business corruption that forced Beijing to clamp down again. But what is that old phrase about toothpaste? Once it’s out of the tube…)

Same is true with Brazil.

This is a major economic powerhouse. And — unlike China — it is a democracy.

One good way to know what is going on is to read news reports from a free and unfettered media. Any attempts to censor or limit that coverage gives a false image of the country and makes dealing with that country — and its citizens and businesses — dicey.

What happens in Brazil affects the U.S. economy and, in some cases, domestic affairs.

For Joe Sixpack, what is the country of origin of the owner of Budweiser? Yep, Brazil.

And for the government planners in Florida, specifically Orlando, what country currently sends to most visitors to your area? Yep, Brazil. (BTW, I was told the other day that out for every 80 or so visas issued to Brazilians to visit the Untied States, one job is created in the U.S. economy. And the U.S. mission in Brazil issues A LOT of visas each week.)

So, Americans need to pay attention to what is going on in Brazil.

And, obviously, not just Brazil. Events in Europe, India, Japan and China can all have a direct impact on American finances, social programs and policies.

So, now to the media situation in Brazil now that you know why it is important to pay attention to such things.

The country is in the middle of a presidential election. And tempers are running high.

Brazilian journalists have been very proud of their freedom and independence.It has only been 25 years since the fall of the dictatorship and its oppressive censorship. Slowly but surely Brazilian media have been moving to a more open a vibrant journalism.

But there still seem to be some political leaders who haven’t gotten the message that censorship is out and freedom is in.

It wasn’t until last year that legislation limiting who could be a journalist was overturned by the nation’s supreme court.

The legislation required journalists to have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and pass a government exam. Both components were carried over from the dictatorship into the democracy. Case after case came forward that claimed the government intervention as to who could be a journalists was the same as promoting state-control of the media.

Eventually the exam was knocked out and then education requirement.

But that still doesn’t mean there aren’t problems.

In this election year, in dozens of cases Brazilian media have been barred from providing coverage or reports related to the first round elections Oct. 3.

And things haven’t changed much as we approach the final round Oct. 31.

On live TV, Brazilian anchor says his station was censored by state government

The Knight Center for Latin American Journalism has a wonderful Google Map that describes the violations and where they occurred. The center also has a link to a similar map created by Brazilian journalist Maira Magro for the 2008 election.

Even without the heat of a contested election, sometimes the leadership of a state or the nation decides that he/she needs more control over what is printed/aired.

Last year President Lula went on a tear against the media.

He said the media commits “excesses,” publishes “lies,” fabricates news and gets involved in campaigns that disseminate “slander and abuse.”

To counter these “violations” of responsible reporting, Lula suggested the creation of “social council” to audit press content. He referred to the process as “social control” of the media to ensure the media serve the public good.

To promote the council, the government sponsored a National Conference on Communications late last year. At that time Lula said the “social council” was needed to balance the power of the press.

The conference participants included a large number of Lula’s political base. A few media groups that also attended. And many of those that did ended up walking out rather than add their names to what was seen as a power play to limit freedom of the press.

The influential Sao Paulo newspaper Estado wrote and editorial that summed up the media’s view of the council:

“Social control of the media is an euphemism to subordinate the free flow of information to the undercover interference from government.”

News organizations said for the council to do what Lula wanted, the constitution would have to be amended to limit freedom of the press or at least make that freedom contingent on council approval.

One of the media groups that refused to participate was the National Magazine Editors, Aner.

Aner president Roberto Muylaert said his organization did not participate because the council seemed to be a way of establishing a way for the government to interfere in the practice of free press.

“The proposal to create a ‘social council’ to audit press content implies modifications to the Constitution which guarantees free initiative and freedom of expression,” said Muylaert. He added “social control sends shivers anywhere in the world because it is incompatible with freedom of expression and a free press.”

Because there was no media support for the conference’s 600+ recommendations it looked, at first, as if the proposals would fade away.

Unfortunately, Lula issued an executive decree in July of this year to establish a commission that would implement the recommendations for broadcasters. (Because broadcasters are already a regulated industry, the government says it can move on the proposals in this field of the news media.)

The “social council” and the issue of “social control” of the media became part of the current presidential campaign.

Main opposition party candidate José Serra raised the “social control” issue before a convention of journalists. He called “social control” of the media promoted by the Lula administration was the same as restricting freedom of the press and a form of “censorship”.

Serra also questioned the creation of TV Brazil, which he described as a government channel designed to be “an instrument to make propaganda in favor of the administration and employ journalists close to the government.”

Even in the heat of the presidential election, the “social council” commission appointed by Lula is moving ahead with its work.

If, as expected, Lula’s hand-picked candidate wins, she will have to decide the fate of the commission recommendations. News organizations are concerned that she will rubber-stamp the report.

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6 Comments

Filed under International News Coverage, Press Freedom, South America

6 responses to “Brazil: Elections and censorship

  1. Wellington Costa

    Hello there are some mistakes at these articles. In Brazil there is, and never had, no “government exam” to became a journalists. The National Conference was a very plural event representing a large number of social sector, including media worker such as technical stuff, operators and of course journalist, with the unions agreement. The only sound of discordance comes from the medias owners, once that the main subject was how media cam be more plural.

    The Brazilian Constitutions has already one article that determines the creation of a council, there is a Federal Council maintained by the Senate. The news at this point is the creation of the States councils.

    There is no case of interference from the Federal Council at a single media company since its creation.

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