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Metrô Mishap: «Sabotage»?


Source: Observatório da Imprensa

The Sabotage of Truth

By: Luciano Martins Costa

The three major national dailies are reporting on the official explanation of the São Paulo government for the incidents on two subway lines on February 4.

In the eyes of governor Geraldo Alckmin, the problem with the lead convoy, involving a failure in the doors, was fixed within ten minutes and service could have been restored were it not for the simultaneous pulling of ten emergency stop alarms, affecting seven other trains. Alckmin suggests there was a conspiracy to sabotage the system.

Today [February 6] coverage by the three dailies … differed notably. The Folha, which in the heat of the moment blamed subway riders themselves for the confusion, continues to prioritize the version provided by the Metrô authority and made official by Alckmin. Rio’s O Globo, less interested in the plight of São Paulo residents, simply reproduces the official version verbatim in one of its columns.

The Estado de S. Paulo, which affords a more critical view of the incident, also affords ample space to the government’s message, but does not exempt the metropolitan transport system from criticism.

Despite the saying that truth can be found on by considering all sides of a diverse debate, it is not difficult to comprehend the front-page photo in the Folha: It shows the conditions millions of rail passengers are obliged to undergo during their evening journey home.

If, in its news reporting, the Folha is reticent to produce reporting that underlies the meaning conveyed by this image, the Estado de S. Paulo takes a more independent and assertive position, blaming the incident squarely on the Metrô authority.

The Folha takes some pains to lend credibility to the conspiracy theory of the state government; the Estadão observes that even in the event an act of sabotage occurred — something the ESP considered unlikely — “this still would not justify the lack of control on the part of the security force, which used violence against passengers.”

The difference between the two major São Paulo dailies differ not only in terms of the degree of detail but principally of what we might call a presumption in favor of dialogue.

From the very beginning, the Folha promotes the version of the story according to which riders were responsible for their own suffering. In doing so, it follows a fixed track from which it will be difficult to escape: the sabotage theory.

Given the heat of the moment, the Estado cites a continuum of technical failures which might shed light on this near-tragedy, and takes a more skeptical view of the official position.

The governor has few alternatives: With an election campaign coming up, his personal opinion [means little] and so he must turn to aides not interested in the technical aspects of the incident — aides who tend to handle these sorts of development with an eye to electoral politics.

It is the duty of the press to report the official story in an objective context that permits the public to form its own opinion. In this case, the Estado’s coverage clearly aimed at quality journalism that respects the intelligence of its readers.

The episode may represent the break-up of a certain consensus that has guided the top three national dailies over the last decade, typified by discriminatory editorial policies in which one political faction is treated as a public enemy while the other receives friendly favors.

The proper thing to do is hope that the press treats all authorities with the same critical rigor, as though they were companies or football teams, without expressions of partisan favor.

Lacking was a detailed account of the conflict between the railworkers union and Metrô management over the risks faced by system users every day in overcrowded trains whose control systems might fail at any moment. This issue is directly related to the scandal involving fraudulent auctions.

The Tuesday incident might well anticipate a future tragedy – some of the players are already preparing their habeas corpus applications.

The Estadão reported yesterday on a new case of technical failure on Line 3 of the Metrô during rush hour.

For its part, Valor ran a story in which the focus is the denial of union officials of complicity in the incidents.

The union representing São Paulo railway workers released a statement rejecting the statements of the state governor to the effect that the chaos in the city subway system was the work of vandals.

Harshly critical, the unions say they have already alerted the Public Ministry (prosecutor) to problems with the trains renovated by privately held companies. As an example, they cite K Fleet, which as it did last year has suffered recent outages.

The subway system sat idle for five hours yesterday due to a system failure. The episode led to panic, hostility and physical confrontations at the stations, and some subway cars were vandalized.

Together with the heat, the overcrowding and the lack of information as to when service would resume, passengers who waited more than 20 minutes for the restoration of service pushed emergency door opening buttons on seven different trains and proceeded on foot through the tunnel.


In the note, the railway workers assert that bribes were paid during the process of contracting out the repairs.  “We believe that the principal consequences of the bribery scheme are the woeful condition of the renovated trains. A private company that won the contract by virtue of a bribe is providing terrible service,” the note said.

The union says that K Fleet, with its mere 7 trains, recorded 696 system failures in a period of 30 dias, 300 of them affecting Train K 07, which derailed in August 2013.

Translation continues …

“We have warned of the possibility that situations like this might arise, but sadly, nothing was done. Given the chaos we experienced yesterday we are asking the Public Ministry to find a solution.”

The Public Ministry — prosecutor — is investigating contracts signed by the state government since 2008 for the renovation of 98 subway trains. Prosecutor Marcelo Milani has said that there are indications of such irregularities as cartel formation and the lack of competition. He is calling for the companies under investigation to compensate the public coffers. The prosecutor’s office estimates the amount embezzled at R$ 800 million.

The union also criticizes the state governor for blaming “organized groups” for the subway outage. “Statements by state transport secretary Jurandir Fernandes, who blames “organized groups” for the chaos, are not at all helpful. The user is not to blame,” the statement said.

Today, governor Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) said that the closing of the Red Line was due to the actions of vandals and possible sabotage. 

The unions are also calling for solutions to such problems as inadequate staffing, overcrowding and air conditioning, which lacks an alternative energy source that permit it to operate between stations.