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The Media, The Far Right Growth and The Rise of Bolsonaro to The Power

The tense relations between the new government and the media do not erase the fact that the main media outlets contributed to create the conditions for his winning the election. The new scenario brings great challenges to freedom of speech and to the right to information.


The elections of 2018 and the victory of the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro (PSL) to the Presidency of Brazil challenge the means of communication in the country. As a number of researches done during the electoral process show, Bolsonaro has built a campaign that mainly used the social media, through Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, in order to avoid his exposure in the traditional media, especially those that did not align to his campaign. His supporters have also broadly used digital platforms, with the help of robots, in order to spread news that were not real, as a way to promote disinformation to benefit their candidate and harm his opponents.

Traditional media has not left this process unharmed: between attempts to define itself as the place where the "truth" is produced and an ambiguous positioning regarding the rise of the far right in Brazil, it has lost part of its ability to present topics that were really relevant to the electoral process. In the first months of Bolsonaro’s government, it becomes clear that the use of social media, the dissemination of disinformation and unaligned information, as well as the attempt of disqualifying the traditional media, are still the communication tactics of the government.

During the elections of 2018, the candidate Bolsonaro has not participated on any of the debates promoted by the TV broadcasters, such as Globo, Band, RecordTV and Rede TV! claiming that it was due to health problems resulting from the stabbing he had suffered in August. That has been the first time since the redemocratization that the Brazilians did not have the chance of watching all the candidates debating and confronting their proposals for the country. He has also refused to participate on the Q&A session promoted by the newspapers O Globo, Extra and Valor Econômico, and the magazine Época on October 23. The media has not questioned his attitude – on the contrary, it has accepted the rules he imposed. On the eve of the run-off, Rede Globo has even cancelled the debate that would take place between Bolsonaro and the candidate Fernando Haddad (PT), because the former had refused to participate. According to the electoral legislation, the broadcaster could have maintained the participation of the candidate who had confirmed his presence in the form of an interview.

On the other hand, the candidate has received the support of other TV broadcasters and gained privileged space in the country's open TV, which once again contradicts the electoral legislation. Back in the first round, Bolsonaro has given an exclusive 26-minute interview to Rede TV! and a 45-minute interview to Bandeirantes (Sept. 28, 2018). In the following week, on October 4, while the other candidates debated their proposals in Rede Globo, he granted a 26-minute interview to RecordTV. The interview took place some days after the owner of Record, Edir Macedo, leader of The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, had declared his support to the candidate. The Universal Church is one of many Pentecostal and Neopentecostal churches that own means of communication in Brazil. A considerable number of similar religious leaderships with visibility in the public sphere has supported the far-right candidate.

In a representation sent to the Electoral Public Ministry, Intervozes and the National Forum for the Communication Democratization (FNDC - Fórum Nacional pela Democratização da Comunicação) have reported the favoring of the candidate Jair Bolsonaro by broadcasting companies and other media outlets, such as Portal R7, that also belongs to Record Group. According to the electoral legislation, broadcasting companies must not provide privileged treatment to a candidate, party or coalition. Five months after the elections, the representation has not been judged yet.

The Brazilian Media Has Created the Conditions for Bolsonaro's Rise

Even if not directly supporting the candidacy of Bolsonaro, the Brazilian media, in general, has helped strengthen the conservatism, the agenda Bolsonaro represents and, thus, the candidacy of the far right through what it has said and what it has silenced.

Over the past years, the dissemination of speeches that accuse the State of being inefficient and corrupt has grown, and it helped creating in the population a feeling of disbelief in politics. More than that, the focus on corruption has been selective and targeted at a single party, PT, culminating in the media supporting the parliamentary coup that has overthrown the President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. The economic crisis has also been credited to a party, while the media opened up space in its schedule and on its pages to the far-right thinking. We must not forget that Bolsonaro government's ideological support, the self-proclaimed philosopher Olavo de Carvalho, used to write to several media outlets, such as O Globo. And Kim Kataguiri, the leader of Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL - Free Brazil Movement) – a far-right group that received huge visibility and support from the media during the impeachment – started writing a column in Folha de S. Paulo before the movement entered the party politics.

The main means of communication have also had a central role in transmitting the punishment and human right rejection agendas that Bolsonaro represents. In the so-called "police news", the media has helped place the topic of public security – one of the main focus of Bolsonaro's campaign – in the center of the discussion, thus generating fear in the population through a sensationalist approach that defended punishment as the solution for the problem.

The lack of plurality and diversity of viewpoints in the media coverage regarding the country's economy agenda has also contributed with the rise of the conservative agenda. The main means of communication have, once more, held PT responsible for the economic crisis and have systematically defended policies, such as the social security reform, labor reform and State privatization, as the only solutions for the crisis, without presenting diverging opinions about a topic that does not only affect Brazil, but also many countries around the world.

During the elections of 2018, the media has also trivialized the attacks of Jair Bolsonaro to women, black people and the LGBTI community, which has led to a growth on the historical violence perpetrated against those groups. Instead of demanding the candidate to be accountable for his comments, including when he complemented torturers of the Military Dictatorship, the media preferred to address the violence during the elections as the result of the political polarization that set PSL on one side and PT on the other side, as extremes that would threaten democracy in the same extent.

The media has also acted through silencing. During the elections, it was noticeable, for instance, the poor coverage of Globo to the #EleNão (not him) movement, which took thousands of women to the streets of 300 cities in Brazil and in other countries against the candidacy of Bolsonaro.

The single speech is propitiated by a scenario of high concentration of property and audience of these means of communication and that the great media represents strong market interests, besides political interests, as the MOM-Brasil indicators show.

Resignations, censorship and threats

When privileging Bolsonaro, many means of communication applied censorship against their employees. In an article of October 13, The Intercept Brasil portal revealed cases of moral harassment against employees of Record Group as an attempt to favor the PSL candidate. On October 23, during the Bom Dia program, with Rogério Mendelski, in Radio Guaíba, of Porto Alegre (RS), also belonging to Record Group, the journalist Juremir Machado da Silva, who had worked for the radio for 10 years, resigned live, while he reported censorship to the journalistic work.

Besides censorship and resignations, journalists and means of communication started being threatened. Still during the electoral period, the journalist Patrícia Campos Mello – author of an article for Folha de S. Paulo that reported that Bolsonaro's supporters were using non-declared money of companies to disseminate anti-PT content via WhatsApp – has received a series of attacks and threats by the candidate's supporters in the social media and via e-mail. She has also had her WhatsApp hacked.

The threats also come from – or are incentivized by – Bolsonaro himself and his group. Several cases of aggression to journalists have been reported by organizations like the National Journalist Federation (Fenaj - Federação Nacional dos Jornalistas), the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji - Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo) and the FNDC over the past years; the aggressions have been performed by him, his advisors and supporters. Bolsonaro also threats the press as a whole, in a direct attack to the freedom of speech. On October 21, for instance, in a speech broadcasted in Paulista Avenue, in the city of São Paulo, the then candidate called Folha de S. Paulo “fake news” and threatened to cut the governmental publicity budget to that newspaper if elected, stimulating the violence of his supporters against the newspaper and its journalists.

After elected, the situation repeated several times. In the beginning of March 2019, in his Twitter account, Bolsonaro accused the journalist Constança Rezende, of Estado de S. Paulo, and her father, Chico Otávio, of O Globo, of wanting to overthrow him. The President was replicating the fake news published by the Bolsonarist website Terça Livre. After the article on Terça Livre and the President's tweet, the journalist started being cursed and threatened by the President's followers. The Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (Abert - Associação Brasileira de Emissoras de Rádio e Televisão), the National Association of Magazine Publishers (Aner - Associação Nacional de Editores de Revistas) and the National Newspaper Association (ANJ - Associação Nacional de Jornais) issued a joint note criticizing the attitude of the President. In their opinion, he had "as objective disqualify the journalistic work, essential for the citizens and for democracy".

The government also attacks the freedom of speech and the pluralism when he attacks the public communication. After elected, Bolsonaro reaffirmed that he intends to extinguish the Brazil Communication Company (EBC - Empresa Brasil de Comunicação). His threat of closing it has not been fulfilled yet. However, on May 19, 2019, employees of that company received the announcement that the government intends to merge TV Brasil – a public broadcaster – to TV NBR – a state-owned broadcaster – thus compromising the constitutional provision of complementary roles between the public, private and state-owned broadcasting systems and opening precedent for a broader governmental control over the public interest communication. That control has been exercised, as shown by the increasing number of reports from EBC employees regarding censorship to their work, as of the beginning of Michel Temer's government, intensified now, in Bolsonaro's government.

While refusing to provide accountability to the citizens through the media, the government also threatens the transparency mechanisms adopted by the previous governments, such as the Access to Information Law (LAI - Lei de Acesso à Informação), number 12.527/2011, published during Dilma Rousseff's (PT) government. A Decree published on January 23, 2019, known as the "gag decree", allowed commissioned officers in the federal government – most of them without permanent connection with public management – to define and label public data as secret or top-secret information, ensuring them to be considered classified for 15 or 25 years, respectively. Before the Decree, only the President, the Vice President of the Republic, State Ministers and equivalent authorities, as well as Armed Forces commanders and chiefs of diplomatic missions abroad, had the prerogative for doing so. The Decree was suspended by the Chamber and later revoked, but the decision is yet another chapter in the tense relation between Bolsonaro's government and the communication and information in the few first months of government.

Text published in April 2019.

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