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The Fearless Independence of the Editora Abril and Other Tall Tales of Its Kind

Blog da Cidadania‘s Edu Guimarães is a leading figure in the self-styled «progessive blogsphere» here in Brazil.  He writes,

Some days ago, a friend of mine employed by the Editora Abril phoned me to describe his worries over the scandal involving the newsweekly Veja — that is to say, involving the possibility that group publisher Roberto Civita will be subpoenaed to appear before the parliamentary inquiry into the Charlie Waterfall case.

Wiretaps of the numbers racketeer captured the racketeers boasting of their success in planting scandalous cover stories with the magazine to undermine their political enemies and competition.

This friend’s concern was that condemnation of the company will produce blowback affecting the thousands of Abril employees. My response was that my friend should not worry himself, given the likelihood that Civita will succeed in hushing up the case, but also given that the damage will be confined to Veja and not affect the division where my friend works.

We also have friends at Abril and can testify that the vast majority of its knowledge workers are talented and conscientious.

My friend, still worried, said he takes no comfort from this scenario because what is keeping Abril in business nowadays is Veja and its contracts with the state government of S. Paulo, which burns massive amounts of cash from its education budget to buy tens of thousands of copies of Veja and textbooks published by Abril, along with others purchased from the Folha, Estado and Globo groups.

Somewhere here I have informal financials of the Abril group from 2007, at which time it was in the market for private equity partnership. Other than that, however, the company profile is that of a hereditary media robber baronage.

I remembered this conversation when I read the accusations that Veja columnist and blogger Reinaldo Azevedo and other mainstream media figures publish every day against members of a blogosphere opposed to the synergies pursued by the major media and the PSDB, DEM and PPS political parties.

On Sunday, for example, in an exchange of mutual accusations between Azevedo and the news site Brasil 247, the latter was accused by Azevedo of being “financed with public funds”, as though Veja itself did not depend heavily on the public treasury of S. Paulo state more than any other publication.

Unlike blogs like mine, which receive not a penny of public funds, 247 carries a banner ad for the Federal District government, for which it received payment, of course. Other sites opposed to the media hegemony of the PSDB carry ads not only for Workers Party (PT) governments but also for state-owned businesses influenced by the PT.

Unlike Veja, however, these dealings are transparent, even if Azevedo presents this fact as if it were some grand revelation, and as though  his own employer displayed not a single banner reflecting the millions it receives from the state governments run by the PSDB and DEM.

It is true, Veja runs plenty of ads for the PT federal government and, in fact, complains of censorship if it does not receive the lion’s share to which it feels itself entitled.

What is more, the supplier contracts for sales of Veja to the state have been the subject of lawsuits. In recent months an indictment has been handed down against the Fundação para o Desenvolvimento da Educação, the FDE.

Last year, the site Na Maria News reported that the S. Paulo state government had placed massive orders for magazines — Veja, Isto É, Época — and dailies — Folha de SP, Estado de S —) for the state education secretary, negotiated by the FDE. The contracts for this transaction alone, without taking into account contracts with other publishers totaled R$9,074,936.

The case brought by the S. Paulo Public Ministry was based on complaint by an NGO called Ação Educativa.

The project is funded in part by the Ford Foundation and Avina.net.

Contract 15/1165/08/04  –Diário Oficial 1/10/2008 and 25/10/2008 — authorized the sale of 220,000 subscriptions to Nova Escola, a publication of the Victor Civita Foundation, with ties to Abril, was worth R$3,700,000. The deal was struck without competitive bidding, despite being based on the enabling Law 8,666.

On May 26, 2009 the São Paulo state prosecutor moved a civil action for administrative improprieties against the CEO, a director and the special projects officer of the FDE, as well as against the Vitor Civita Foundation.

Ação Educativa, based on potential irregularities in the contract with the FDE and the Civita Foundation, is calling for the punishment of public officials for misconduct, and its case is still pending.

The spending of the state government on major media groups that have done so much to promote it borders on the incredible. According to Na Maria News, more than R$250 million were spent over the past decade, without a single competitive bidding process.

Of this amount, which is based on data from the Diário Oficial, Editora Abril and the Victor Civita Foundation received an astonishing R$ 52 million for the sale of group publications such as Revista Nova Escola, Veja, The Student’s Almanaque, Recreio magazne and the National Geographic Atlas.

Abril began life as a local partner for Disney cartoons and currently serves in the same role for North American franchises ranging from MTV and Discovery to Rolling Stone and Playboy.

The case brought by Ação Educativa was assigned number 0018196-44.2009.8.26.0053 and is based on three premises:

[… to be continued …]