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AP 470 Ruling | “Do The Media Represent Us?”

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Estado de Minas

Item: Do the media represent us? — CartaCapital

The communications media were never elected by anyone and they manifest their opinions in the absence of a social consensus.

This sounds like a declaration of independence or an ultimatum leading to war. On the morning of September 18, the daily Estado de Minas assumed usurped  the role of legitimate representative of the 19 million citizens of Minas Gerais.

Using the paper’s own search engine, I could find no reference to any such editorial on the day in question.

In a front-page editorial, the paper attacked Supreme Court minister, who had just decided the fate of 11 defendants convicted in the “payola of the PT” case. “In the streets of Belo Horizonte, a significant part of the population tend to consider the positive ruling on the right to appeal a disapointing outcome. Worse: as a sign of impunity,” the editorial affirmed .

On the following day, like many news organizations The Belo Horizonte daily would not be able to hide its dissatisfaction with the “deferment” of the trial. In Rio, O Globo went even further.  “STF upholds impunity of mensaleiros — the “payola” defendants — until 2014,” the top headline screamed.

In unison, the other major media groups lamented the “divorce” between the Supreme Court and “public opinion.”

Oddly, the main news feature in the Estado de Minas on September 19 was a kindergarten exercise in fair-mindedness conceived as a simple dualism: Decision: Some Are For, Some Are Against …

The following day the EM returns to the theme of general indignation:

Supreme Court decision in “payola” case provokes indignation and revulsion among the people. 

How schizogenic is that?

As a sidebar to the same editorial packet, the Globo soap opera actresses who wore black to protest generalized impunity:

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O Globo and the Estado de Minas — once part of the Diários Associados of Chateaubriand — share a lot of content. The governor’s sister is said to have undue influence on the editorial line of the latter, but that is a long and complicated story.

“But which public opinion? The opinion of the very paper that claims that role,” says sociologist Venício de Lima, a professor at UnB dedicated to media studies. “Since the middle of the last century, the principal media groups have laid a claim to the representation of public opinion to the detriment of the institutional channels of representative democracy, such as parties, governments and Congress. This because the function of the newspaper is to mediate communication, to occupy the space between the public and the issues of political debate.

There is just one problem, however: “At the same time as they serve as a social intermediary, these media groups are political actors, defenders of their own interests and the interests of those who finance them. There is no place in the world in which the media can declare itself as the mouthpiece of public opinion. Except here in Brazil, where there is a powerful concentration of ownership, an oligopoly of very special interests.

Kenya, Ecuador and Venezuela are pretty awful as well. Peru does surprisingly well at times, thanks to some really determined, hair-rising muckraking And who can forget the role of radio in the Rwandan genocide?

Lima’s analysis is shared by political scientist Vera Chaia of PUC-SP. “The media is not elected, it represents nothing or no one. It cannot speak in the name of the population as a whole. What can be used to measure public opinion is polling, and even these must be viewed with a certain mistrust. They often direct the interview subject to expression an opinion on subjects preprogrammed by the media”, the professor said. “Even more inadequate is to pressure a judge to decide a case based on popular discontent. A Supreme Court minister must rule based on the Constitution, as a defender of the constituted legal system.”

Marcus Figueiredo, a professor at UERJ … notes that the term “public opinion” is not expressed in the singular by accident. “It is only manifest when there is a social consensus. It is in the best interest of all Brazilians, for example, to have a quality, reliable system of public transportation. It does not matter if a fair portion of the public has a private car. Urban mobility depends on collective transport,” he says, “And so we can say that public opinion is favorable to  combating corruption, but to get from there to the proposition that they oppose the embargos infringentes is another question entirely.

What is at stake here is not this specific legal proceeding but the validity of a legal appeal. This is especially true because sooner or later, the owner of this newspaper that speaks in the name of public opinion will find itself sitting in the dock and feeling that his right to a full defense has been denied him on the same basis as in this case.”

In its attempt to assume the role of legitimate representative of public opinion, the media tends to disqualify other political institutions, according to Aloysio Castelo de Carvalho, a professor at UFF.

“The newspapers present themselves as the most authentic voice because they play no direct role in the elections, but they exploit the worsening relations between the politician and the population he represents.”

“In more developed democratic nations, there is more of a balance in this relationship between media and political institutions. Each one answers to the other, especially in cases of misconduct.  That does not happen here. Among other things, the Brazilian media has no tradition of pluralism. Most of the population has its voiced ignored by the newspapers.”

Author of a book on the subject, Carvalho cites the example of how Diários Associados used its network of dozens of radio broadcasters, with the assistance of O Globo and Jornal do Brasil, to depose Goulart in 1964. Created in 1963 and cynically self-entitled “The Democracy Network,” it posed as a spokesperson for public opinion and demanded military intervention against a supposed communist threat. Practically speaking, there were no alternative voices in the media to question this assertion. The results was the 1964 coup and a 21-year dictatorship.

The celebrated  “divorce” between the judiciary and public opinion is another figment, argues Fernando Filgueiras of UFMG, coordinator of the Centro de Referência do Interesse Público.

The Public Interest Reference Center is a partner of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the Ford Foundation, along with state and federal research funding sources.

KAS and Ford have deep and historical relations with the Brazilian scientific, business and cultural community. Ford finances the Observatorio da Imprensa, for example. KAS had long-standing ties to the old DEM-PFL party of the right, which has gone the way of the dinosaur.

“Such a marriage never existed, if only because the population is deeply suspicious of the institution.”

In an article published in Brazilian Political Science Review, Filgueiras presented a survey taken in 2012 with more than 1,200 subjects in Belo Horizonte, Goiânia, Porto Alegre and Recife.

All public institutions are substantially mistrusted: President, Congress, police forces … but also the judiciary, which is viewed with suspicion by 48.7%. The reasons for this suspicion are clear: 61.4% do not believe citizens are treated equally, and 51,7% believe judges make decisions influenced by politicians business figures, and other special interests.

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