Brazil’s Political Crisis and Media Environment

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The ongoing scandals surrounding Brazil’s political parties promise to reign well into the future and will surely envelop the coming elections in 2018. Against the backdrop of this heightened, politically charged atmosphere and the spate of sustained mass protests in the country, the Brazilian media — understood as a key influencer of public opinion — has been subjected to scrutiny from across the political spectrum.

Attempts to tamp down media coverage of the country’s scandals and build new narratives are playing out in earnest, and are nothing new in Brazil. Discussing the dearth of Brazilian media coverage of the massive nationwide general strike against President Michel Temer in late April, Al Jazeera relayed accusations that “Temer’s government has been using taxpayers’ money to persuade the news media to support his conservative agenda.” Journalist Joao Filho of The Intercept Brasil told the outlet, “The Temer government is buying editorial support. It’s not simply increasing advertising funds, no — it’s exchanging advertising funds for editorial support.”

The daily newspaper O Estado de São Paulo reported on 5 May that former president Lula da Silva criticized the media at the Worker’s Party’s (PT) 6th National Congress event, saying that the country’s journalists were spreading lies and that he would do more to regulate the media if he regained the presidency. This comes as the PT begins to recast itself ahead of the 2018 elections.

Former president Dilma Rousseff, meanwhile, was quoted in the outlet Folha de São Paulo on 12 May as saying that Luciano Huck — a popular TV presenter who has denied persistent rumors that he has his own political ambitions — makes “social politics for TV viewing,” which is “very serious” because it is “an explicit attempt at electoral manipulation.” Another influential media personality, billionaire veteran TV host Silvio Santos, was allegedly approached by President Temer for help in convincing the public that his social security reform plan was good for the country.

Anti-corruption protest against President Temer near the Agriculture Ministry in Brasilia, Brazil, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

The Economist featured its own take on the whirlwind of media-linked political intrigue, which escalated on 17 May when O Globo — a major newspaper based in Rio de Janeiro — reported on tape recordings that caught President Temer “endorsing the payment of hush money to a politician convicted of taking bribes” in the Petrobras scandal. The story sent Brazil’s financial markets into a tailspin, gave new life to anti-government demonstrations, prompted impeachment requests to be filed, and led to an ongoing investigation. The O Globo story thus has not only threatened Temer’s presidency, but has also threatened his political power by putting at risk the economic reforms he had initiated.

Andrés Oppenheimer suggested in an op-ed in the Miami Herald that the Brazilian scandal stories are just getting started and would ultimately be a positive development for Latin American politics and the fight against regional corruption. Accordingly, it is safe to say that watching Brazil’s media and the narratives they form will be not only fascinating, but essential for political observers trying to get ahead of potential developments in the country.