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Acts & Omissions | The Press and the Bid-Riggers

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Source: Observatório da Imprensa

By:  Luciano Martins Costa

Accustomed as we are to noisy headlines and resounding accusations during the five years in which Case No. AP 470 — “the monthly payola of the PT” — dominated the news, newspaper readers must find it odd:  the cautious tone which which the press has treated the episode involving the São Paulo state government and the misuse of public funds.

Oddly, the bid rigging scheme, with evidence of bribery, and confessed to by two gigantic European multinationals, has morphed into a mere “alleged cartel scheme.”

It is not that the press should take over the role of the prosecutor, leaking headline stories to the press about guilt and sentencing in cases still under investigation.

That is how things were done during the years in which the “payola” scandal dominated the news.  Perhaps only more attentive readers will find this curious.

On September 30, for example, Globo’s Jornal Nacional was much more assertive in its coverage than were the dailies the following morning. Curious viewers might also sense something awry in the insistence on focusing the actions of the companies involved, leaving out the fact that a scandal involving public officials is the other half of the scheme.

TV Globo explained that the bid rigging for rail transport in São Paulo began under Governor Covas, who passed away in March 2001 and was replaced by Alckmin. It continued under the Alckmin and was active during the administration of José Serra, elected in 2006.

For that reason, there is evidence that the episode has much more to it than a bid-rigging scheme among competitors and evolved into an extensive, official and consolidated corruption scheme. But the press is refusing to associate one with the other.

See, for example, how the front page of today’s Estado de S. Paulo, describes a “supposed cartel scheme,” whereas the story in the inside pages describes, “a supposed scheme of bribery paid to civil servants and the executives of state-owned firms.”

The Folha de S. Paulo runs a short article on the subject, less than the space afforded it in O Globo in Rio. The S. Paulo daily writes that a court has ordered the  opening of bank acounts of 11 indicted suspects related to the payment of bribes to politicians and civil servants, having to do with contracts in the energy and transport sector. It includes  responses from the attorneys of the accused.

Nothing to criticize in that. After all, every accused should have the right to a proportionate defense.

This is not, however, the same routine observed in other corruption cases reported by the news media over the years.

Most commonly, the strategy of the newspapers has been to run several consecutive stories , neglecting the right of defense of the accused and transforming every allegation into a scandal and often inventing jargon and nicknames in order to fix the accusations more firmly in the mind of the reader, The front pages are hopping with expression such as [“bribe pipeline, “monthly payola, the Valério pipeline”] and other inventions whose purpose is clearly to consolidate opinion than to inform.

It is also interesting to observe how, together with sparse newsflow on the supposed misconduct in the transport sector, the paper uses two basic sources each of which says essentially the same thing.

One of these sources emerged from the decision by Siemens to change its corporate governance policy, adopting transparency and taking the blame for former executives. The revelation that a cartel existed in the transport auctions originated in this change of policy.

The other source emerged from investigations into the conduct of Alstom, accused for similar reasons and which has just opened books of some of the accused, as the Jornal Nacional reported on September 30 and the newspapers on October 2 .

A question that many readers must be asking themselves is, if the press is treating two aspects of the same case, from a common sources, Uma why is it treated as separate scandal, one involving Siemens and another involving Alstom?