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Railway Scandal Coverage | The Deluge of Detail

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Source:  Observatório da Imprensa

By: Luciano Martins Costa

An interesting exercise in the observation of the press is to rummage through newspaper and magazine archives using keywords taken from today’s news.

This exercise enables us to note, for example, the different weights and measures applied to news reports on similar topics, which may vary according to the protagonists and the interests of each news organization at the time in question.

Luciano points to the “payola of the PT” — mensalão — case as an example

[…]

Though Jefferson never involved president  Lula da Silva in his accusations, newspapers and magazines spent nearly all the first half of 2006, during the election campaign, trying to tie him to the scandal. Although it was already known that the self-same scheme had been used by the PSDB in Minas Gerais, the press worked to focus their coverage of the case on accusations targeting politicians of the Workers Party.

A very different approach is taken to the case involving PSDB party members in  São Paulo, which is based, not on mere accusations, but on official documents from various sources.

If the press had any real interest in revealing the profound causes of corruption in Brazil, in would invest in the connections among the various scandals and treat all of them with the rigor applied to the “payola of the PT” case.

Given the central part played by advertising budgets as reservoirs of slush-fund cash in this unholy trilogy — to think that they would skim money from the fantastic Rock in Rio shows! — I tend to think that maybe a CPI of Propaganda and PR would strike closest to the heart of the beast.

Everything I have said so far is general knowledge, because the press has never tried to conceal its political preferences.

It is not as easy, however, to understand certain variations in the enthusiasm with which the print press sets out to uncover corruption.

Meet Caixa Dois

In November 2000, five years before the explosion of the “payola of the PT,” for example, the Folha de S. Paulo pointed a finger at a “powerful scheme of fundraising” in the reelection campaign of then-president Cardoso (FHC), in 1998. The principal operator of the so-called caixa dois — parallel accounting — as the campaign coordinator, former minister  Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira admitted, was FHC’s Secretary of Communication, Andrea Matarazzo.

Two days after running this accusation, Veja magazine took up the topic … affirming that “the Folha took aim at a nest of snakes and hit a herd of elephants.” In this article, as you can see, Veja comments that the accusation was cleared up by representatives of the PSDB who argued that this parallel accounting was  routine and  common to all political parties and campaigns.

Disappear and Refocus

Thanks to the impossibility and the lack of interest of investigating further, the Folha’s findings wound up disappearing from the news.

This Thursday (August 15) , the Estado de S. Paulo published a report on the scandal that involves the state government, citing an offshore account used for the payment of bribes that had turned up in investigations by the federal prosecutor’s office in 2004. The story had to do with a remittance of taxes for a former director of the Banco do Brasil under FHC.

O Estado recalls that Fernando Henrique’s former minister, Andrea Matarazzo, was indicted at the time, which led to the discovery of a link between the “parallel accounting” of 1998 and the dubious relationship between successive state governments and companies in the rail transport sector.

There is no sign, however, that this clue will be followed up on.

One can already perceive the workings of a diversionary tactic similar to what took place after the “payola of the PSDB” case broke.

On August 15,  Globo once again shifts the focus of its coverage of the  “alleged payment of bribes” to the possibility that the same companies involved in the cartel in São Paulo had participated in fraudulent auctions in other states.

It does make sense to expand the range of reporting if there are suspicions that the cartel functioned everywhere that rail transport projects were underway, but the history of press coverage arouses suspicions that the press intends to create a diversion from the principal scandal.

This is already one of Governor Alckmin’s principal talking points, along with “we did not detect the cartel because cartels are hard to detect” and a corollary: “There are federal projects with the same problems.”

And yet two independent federal agencies, the CGU and CADE, cooperating with international investigative organizations,  were able to detect the São Paulo and Brasília schemes and — mirabile dictu — pressure Siemens successfully into a plea agreement.

Meanwhile, the purpose of the “news deluge” is to avoid becoming a “poster child” for the social malaise in question. Responsibility must be made diffuse. Organization charts must be labyrinthine.

Opening the Floodgates

In the Ministério Público de São Paulo (MPF) — state prosecutor — alone more than 51 inquiries have been launched into  the ties between the cartel confessed by Siemens and the payment of bribes to São Paulo authorities. At the end of this line, we can already glimpse the following context forming: News coverage is diluted among dozens of cases and the original nucleus of accusations exits the stage.

This is true, but there is a promising partial remedy: the growing regional and local press, which has boots on the ground that give it a head start on the metrosexual dailies on its own turf.

These news outlets are what they call glocal — global and local, in that they pad their editions out with newswire material — Agência Estado seems to have a substantial niche in this area, though it competes with Reuters Brasil, e.g. — and devote their remaining space to matters of genuine local interest.

Chomsky

Distraction via deluge is the first of ten strategies for media manipulation outlined by Noam Chomsky.