On August 31st, Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached in a process that was considered a political coup in the eyes of some Brazilians and a part of the international press. Even with a big number of civilians protesting the impeachment, national media outlets have been paying more attention to covering only one side of the story, which supports the idea that the impeachment was lawful and democratic.
It is not be the first time that Brazilian Media has adopted such a controversial stance on important political events. In 1964, a day after the military coup that established a dictatorship, O Globo, one of the most important newspapers of the time, published:
“Safe from the communization that was swiftly being prepared, the brazilians must thank the braves militares that protected us from the enemy.”
O Globo – Rio de Janeiro – April 2nd, 1964 (translation)
More than 50 years after the coup, the biased stance seems to be repeating, but this time around, it’s with actual context and no army intervention. To avoid falling into the trap of the media opportunism, the story of one of the most controversial and delicate periods of Brazil can not be ignored.
What was the Brazil’s Military Coup in 1964?
Until 1964, Brazil was a democracy but this was overturned in April, due to a military coup that established a dictatorship that lasted 21 years. Historians can all find a consensus that the government was elitist and violent, leaving hundreds injured, dead or missing, with some disappearances still unsolved.
During this dark period, freedom of expression was under very strict regulation and political opposition barely existed. The censorship was an official policy of the state and in 10 years, more than 600 movies, 500 theater plays, many books and other important educational material for children were censored, as well as a huge number of songs and other forms of art.
The coup called a “revolution”
Just as with any other political development, the biased major media outlets demonstrated undoubtedly directly influenced public opinion about the newly established dictatorship. Some major newspapers not only published false or crooked information, but were also indirectly responsible for the very coup itself.Even before the 1964 coup, newspapers like “O Estado de São Paulo” and “O Globo” portrayed an image of the President being unprepared. Much of the criticism was targeted towards João Goulart’s political reforms which were considered “Soviet” and “Red”, in a period when the Cold War was still raging. The reforms essentially aimed to curb social injustices within the nation, but some policies, like the “Agricultural Reform”, displeased many people from the upper tiers of society. The media displayed a false image of Mr Goulart, one of being unpopular with the people and unskilled to deal with issues, despite the fact that a 1963 research from IBOPE, demonstrated that his approval rating was as high as 70%.
Soon, the atmosphere in the country turned sour, with the media claiming that the country was on the verge of a “communist strike”. This further consolidated the ground needed for the revolutionaries to attempt their coup without any opposition. Ironically, “O Globo” celebrated the coup as “the return of democracy”.
An elitist government means that most of the rich supporting the regime, who happen to be the ones who own the newspapers, viewed the dictatorship as an opportunity to make their businesses grow.
“A lot of times [it] is not the government who stops the publication of the articles, but the newspapers owners,” said journalist Cláudio Abramo, who wrote for “Estado de São Paulo” newspaper. Several journalists were fired, tortured or killed. Newspaper owners were worried to show any sign of opposition or criticism towards the murder of politician Carlos Marighella, considered the number one enemy of the state. While “Folha da Tarde” published on its cover “Gunned Marighella, chief of the terror”, “Venceremos” published “This journal is not censored. Greetings Marighella!”.
Autocensure, in order to avoid opposing the government and getting into trouble, is a practice that continues to this day amongst major media outlets.
On December 14th, 1968, on the day after an institutional act that would consolidate the legitimacy of the dictatorship, “Jornal do Brasil” published in the weather report section:
The air is unbreathable.
The country is swept by strong winds
Every article was submitted to censorship. Some journalists and artists found ways to dodge it, as seen in the text above which clearly refers to the political situation at the time. To show that texts had been censored, journalists would leave a blank space where the original publication was supposed to be, usually in the form of cake recipes or a random poem, hinting at what had been removed. The government censorship board would allow such acts of resistance, knowing that only a few would be able to understand the hidden message.
In 2013, the journal “O Globo” acknowledged, in an article, that that they made ‘mistakes’ during the dictatorship. Due to this ‘official apology’, a more neutral coverage of events was expected. However, Dilma’s impeachment showed that those expectations were not met.
In March 2016, “Observatório de Imprensa” made an interesting case by analysing two editorials, one from “Estadão”, a very popular journal in Brazil, and one from “Correio da Manhã” from 1964. When comparing the texts, they noticed a common pattern used in the argumentation of both articles: the times are presented as “almost apocalyptical”, strongly criticising the inefficiency of the government, blaming the actual president for all problems and, eventually, talking about the people who are not pleased and are saying “Enough!”
However, Estadão is not the only one to do so. Another article, written by journalist Cileide Alves, analysed the editorials from January up until April 2016 of the journals “Estadão”, “Folha de São Paulo” and “O Globo”, concluding by emphasising the need for neutrality in information. The editorials, which were numerous (83, 23 and 29, respectively), criticised the government, suggested the impeachment of Ms Rousseff and presented national politics as being full of “Bolivarianism”, always referring to the crisis and the need to change course.
More than fifty years after the military coup, the media is still taking controversial decisions with regards to political matters. Despite a large group of Brazilians who oppose the impeachment, major media outlets pretend as if everyone is in favour.
Brazil is a relatively new democracy and, like most Latin countries, is very unstable. The press has huge influence, mainly towards the low-income tier of society.
It is important to note that, even though media did play an important role in the impeachment, it would be excessive to argue that they were the only ones involved. Corruption in Brazil is a very complex and deep-rooted problem, with many to blame and the press is just one of them. One of the biggest emerging countries in the world cannot stop developing. The political and economic crisis shows that something must change, but contrary to what media says, the president is neither the only option nor the solution.