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The Press and the President-Generals | The Untold Tale


Robert Marinho holding hands with President-General Figueiredo (at left)

Source: Viomundo

By: Marco Aurélio Weissheimer

Topic:  The infamous Globo editorial and the black box of media relations with the Brazilian and Argentine dictatorships …

The participation of the Brazilian media in the coup of 1964 and the subsequent dictatorship is a tale not yet fully told. Many of the commitments that led a significant portion of the native press to ally itself with coup plotters and authoritarian government remain down to the present day and are manifest in other debates on the national scene.

The daily O Globo published an editorial on August 31, 2013, in which it admits that “editorial support for the 1964 coup was an error” — PT erro — as well as an equívoco, translatable as a “mistake” or “misunderstanding.”

Globo seems equivocal in its declaration of unequivocal regret. 

The decision to publish this evaluation, the editorial goes on to say, “is the fruit of internal debates over the years in which the Globo organizations concluded, by the light of history, that this support was a ‘mistake.'”

Nearly 50 years after the civilian-military coup that overthrew the constitutional government of João Goulart, Globo decides to come forward to reveal this “mistake.” After reminding the reader that other major dailies also adhered to the coup — it cites the Estado de São Paulo, Folha de São Paulo, Jornal do Brasil and Correio do Brasil, “to name but a few”) it admits that the voices in the  streets today yelling “Globo supported the dictatorship!” are telling the truth.

But what may seem at first like an outbreak of self-criticism soon dissolves, over the course of the editorial, into a cynical exercise in self-justification of the decision made in 1964, and completely omits the benefits the company received in exchange for its adherence.

The editorial cites an article bylined to Roberto Marinho in 1984, in which he “undercores the gesture made by Geisel on October 13, 1978, when all of the Institutional Acts were rescinded, chief among them AI-5, and restored the principle of habeas corpus to the legal system (…)”.

Shortly thereafter, Marinho justifies his support for the coup, pointing out the “economic advances achieved in those 20 years” and the belief  that coup was “absolutely necessary for the maintenance of democracy and later, to contain the eruption of urban guerrilla movements.”

The argument of the editorial, briefly put, is as follows:  “The light of history shows that 50 years ago we made a mistake, but what we did at the time was indispensable for the maintenance of democracy. ”

Such editorial exercises in cynicism and selective memory by Globo at least give us an opportunity to bring to light a debate that remains hidden in the shadows.

It is a historic opportunity to debate the relations of the major media groups with the dictatorship of 1964-85.

A number of these corporations built their media empires with the blessings and benefits received from the military governments.

The vast majority of Braziians have never heard this story, especially the younger generations.

But then Brazil is very backwards in this respect. Unlike Brazil, Argentina, for example, is busy settling accounts with its own military dictatorship  (1976-1983).

Along with putting military men and police on trial for crimes ranging from torture to assassination, the Argentine government decided to stir up another wasp nest, peering under the carpet that conceals promiscuous relations between the dictatorship and the mass media.

On August 24, 2010, for example, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner delivered a 20,000 page report accusing the owners of the country’s principal dailies of involvement in crimes against humanity committed during the dictatorship.


In the report, titled Papel Prensa: the Truth, Argentine authorities charge the owners of La Nación, Clarín and the extinct La Razón of having illegally expropriated the largest newsprint producer in Argentina, Papel Prensa, in November 1976.

The report recounts how the former owners, banker David Gravier and his wife Lídia, were kidnapped by the military in 1977 and forced to sign papers “selling” their shares in the company.

An important piece of the investigative puzzle was provided by witness Lídia Papaleo, who was not only kidnapped but also tortured by the military.

In an article titled“What lies behind a newspaper called Clarín?”  (Carta Maior (04/06/2012), journalist Eric Nepomuceno reproduces a passage from a new deposition by Lídia to the Argentine court.

She states:

Even today I still remember the faces of my torturers. Até hoje lembro os rostos de meus torturadores, but none of those faces, none of those expressions, haunt me as much as the gaze of Héctor Magnetto as he told that I would sign over the business or else my daughter and I would be killed.

Héctor Magnetto, as Nepomuceno points out, was and continues to be the chief executive of the Clarín group. It was he who, in that distant 1976, and before kidnapping and torturing Lídia, and he who first met with her. It was to him that she capitulated.

The owners of the newspapers accused  themselves accuse the government, in turn, of wanting to control the press and impose censorship.

The truth is that these companies, like their Brazilian colleagues at O Globo, supported the dictatorship, benefited from it and possibly served as direct or indirect accomplices of various crimes committed by the generals.

By opening the black box of the media,Cristina Kirchner has picked what may be the toughest fight her government faces.

Spokesmen of the Public Interest?

Media companies are in the habit of viewing themselves as spokesmen for the public interest. To what extent can a private corporation, whose central preoccupation is profits, serve that role?

These companies participate actively in the political, economic and cultural life of the country, taking positions, making choices, and pretending to tell the population how it ought to view the world. .

In the case of Brazil, as in Argentina, the recent history of many of these media groups is marked by support for constitutional violations, the ouster of democratically elected governments, and by its complicity in crimes committed by the military regime — active  complicity, in many cases, such as the use of Folha de S. Paulo delivery vans to transport political prisoners who had been tortured during the notorious Operation Bandeirantes.)

To date, none of these companes have found it necessary to justify its position with respect to the military. O Globo has taken the first tentative step in an editorial that at every turn attempts to justify its “error” with an apeal to “historical context.”

Many publications do not even use the term “dictatorship” any more to refer to this sad period in our history. They prefer to speak of a “regime of exception.”

They behave as though their choices (support for the regime and the benefits obtained from this support) were also expressions of “the public interest.”

Was supporting the coup that brought down Jango an expression of public interest?

Is acting as an accomplice to a dictatorship that trampled on the Constitution, torturing and killing, does that make you a plausible defender of freedom?

Globo, Zero Hora and RBS

The silence of the media groups in the face of these questions, on the other hand, is an eloquent response.

In Rio Grande do Sul, there is a sad chapter in our history that has not been duly narrated, after the daily Zero Hora took the place of Última Hora, shut down for supporting Jango.

The baptism of this new daily was marked by acts of violence against the democratic rule of law.

Three days after the promulgation of Ato Institucional n° 5 (December 13, 1968), ZH ran a story on the issue affirming that “the federal government has been receiving the solidarity and support of diverse sectors of our national life.”

On September 1, 1969, the paper ran an editorial entitled “The preservation of ideals,” celebrating “the authority and irreversibility of the Revolution.”

The editorial closes:  “The national interests should be preserved at any price and above all else.”

National interests or business interests? The expansion of the Rio Grande media group culminated in the creation of RBS, in 1970.

Based on positive relations with the military governments and its coordination with the Globo network, RBS continued to accumulate broadcast concessions and affiliations and to diversify its media businesses.

Today, anyone who speaks of wanting to revive this story is accused of being “an enemy of the freedom of the press.” But Zero Hora was not the only example.

The Correio do Povo played an active role in the coup that ousted Jango.

The article “1964: Rio Grande do Sul in the eye of the hurricane”, by Enrique Serra Padrós and Rafael Fantinel Lamiera, describes the publication’s conduct — it belonged to the Caldas Junior
 group at the time:  “The Correio do Povo launched a wave of violent criticism, accusing Goulart as an agitator, and anti-democrat, a demagogue seeking to install “a new Person-Castro” regime in Brazil (whatever that was supposed to mean).

It adopted a critical line inherited from Lacerda in Rio and from the Central Brazilian press in attacking the federal government as well as its own Governor Brizola. This was an explicit reference to the plans to install a communist regime behind a  political caudillo and adopting populist political thinking from the pampas — the result being a mixture of Perón and Fidel, the two biggest nightmares of the Latin American right. ” (p.41, in A Ditadura de Segurança Nacional no Rio Grande do Sul)”.

Aping a posture assumed by other major dailies, on the eve of the coup the Correio do Povo published an  editoral calling “for the armed forces to accept their historic mission as the sustainers of law and order, in the spirit of their historic vocation, of Christianity and Liberal Democracy.”

At the end, this editorial says,  

“The path to follow at this decisive juncture allows no doubts or vacillations: It is the ethical cleansing of political and civil leadership and the extermination of the enemies of democracy and the fatherland, … .

The participation of the Brazilian media in the 1964 coup and the dictatorship that followed is a tale not yet fully told. There are many lacunae and grey areas in this history. And it seems that there is nothing accidental about this fact.

Many of the ideological commitments that led a significant portion of the press to ally themselves with coup-plotting and authoritarian elements are still present and are visible in debates on the nation and national life today.

Though society may not wish to open this black box, doing so is a precondition for democracy in Brazil and Argentina, and other countries in the region.

Unless this black box is opened, news organizations in Brazil and other countries in the region will continue to play one of their favorite games: trampling on the public memory and presenting its private interests as though they were equivalent to the public domain.