Globo’s Billionaire Heir, João Roberto Marinho, Attacked Me in the Guardian. Here’s My Response.

Brazil's most powerful man unintentionally reveals a great deal about his news organization.

Joao Roberto Marinho

(Para ler a versão desse artigo em Português, clique aqui.)

What was the most powerful man in Brazil, the billionaire heir of the Globo empire, João Roberto Marinho (above), doing in the comment section of The Guardian? Granted: His comment received a coveted “Recommended” tag from Guardian editors — congratulations, João! — but still, it is not the place one expects to find a multibillionaire plutocratic Brazilian heir.

On Friday, April 21, I published an op-ed in The Guardian, in which I posed numerous questions about the impeachment process against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, as well as the role played by the dominant Brazilian media, led by Globo. João responded with anger — and with obvious falsehoods. As one can see, João criticized my article by calling me a liar in various ways in his response.

Look, João: Like virtually all Brazilians, I had to battle a great deal to earn my place in life. I did not inherit a huge company and billions of dollars from my parents. The things I have had to overcome in my life are far more burdensome than your effort to discredit me with condescension, and it is thus not difficult to demonstrate that your response was filled with falsehoods.

In fact, João’s response deserves more attention than a mere comment because it is full of deceitful propaganda and pro-impeachment falsehoods — exactly what he tries to deny Globo has been spreading — and thus reveals a great deal (today, Guardian editors upgraded João’s comment into a full-fledged letter!).

Before addressing what João does say, let’s begin with something he neglects to mention: Globo’s long-standing role in Brazil. Under the rule of his father, Roberto Marinho, Globo cheered and glorified the 1964 military coup that removed Brazil’s democratically elected left-wing government. Far worse, Globo, under the Marinho family, spent the next 20 years as the powerful propaganda arm of the brutal military dictatorship that tortured and killed dissidents and suppressed all dissent. In 1984, Globo simply and deliberately lied to the country when its on-air anchor described a massive pro-democracy protest in São Paulo as a celebration of the city’s birthday. The Marinho family’s wealth and power grew as a direct result of their servitude to Brazil’s military dictators.

When anti-government protests erupted in 2013, by which time the military coup was widely despised by Brazilians, Globo’s history became a huge corporate embarrassment. So they did what all corporations do once their bad acts begin to hurt their brand: They finally acknowledged what they did and apologized for it (and separately apologized for their lie about the 1984 protest). But they tried to dilute their responsibility by noting (accurately) that the other media outlets that still dominate Brazilian media and have been as supportive of Dilma’s undemocratic exit (such as Estadão and Folha) also supported that coup, and they downplayed the role of Globo in supporting not only the coup but also the 20-year dictatorship that followed.

That is the ugly history of Globo and the Marinho family in Brazil, a major source of their wealth and power, and a reflection of the role they — and their highly paid TV personalities — continue to play. It’s the same family running Globo now, governed by the same tactics and goals. That is not the conduct of a genuine media outlet. It is the conduct of an oligarchical family using its media outlet to shape and manipulate public opinion for its own purposes. Now, to João’s comment:

Mr. David Miranda’s article (“The real reason Dilma Rousseff’s enemies want her impeached,” from April 21, published by The Guardian) paints a completely false picture of what is happening in Brazil today. It fails to mention that everything began with an investigation (named Operation Car Wash), which in turn revealed the largest bribery scheme and corruption scandal in the country’s history, involving leading members of the ruling Workers Party (PT), as well as leaders of other parties in the government coalition, public servants and business moguls.

What is “completely false” is João’s attempt to deceive readers into believing that Dilma’s impeachment is due to Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash). It is true that PT, like most of the major parties, has been revealed to be full of major corruption problems, and that many PT officials have been implicated by Lava Jato. But the case for Dilma’s impeachment is not based in any of that, but rather in claims that she manipulated the budget to make it look stronger than it was.

João’s misleading attempt to confuse a foreign audience by mixing the corruption and bribery scandals of Car Wash with Dilma’s impeachment exemplifies exactly the kind of pro-impeachment deceit and bias Globo has been institutionally disseminating for more than a year.

Beyond that, the political figures that Globo has been cheering and that impeachment will install — including Vice President Michel Temer and House Speaker Eduardo Cunha of the PMDB party — are, unlike Dilma, accused of serious personal corruption, proving that when people like João cite corruption to justify impeachment, that is merely the pretext for undemocratically removing the leader they dislike and installing the one they like.

The Brazilian press in general, and the Globo Group in particular, fulfilled their duty to inform about everything, as would have been the case in any other democracy in the world.

The suggestion that Globo is a neutral, unbiased news organization — rather than the leading propaganda arm of the Brazilian oligarchy — is laughable to anyone who has ever seen its programs. Indeed, the bias of Globo, and in particular its leading nightly news show, Jornal Nacional, has been so extreme that it is now the source of regular mockery. There’s a reason pro-democracy street protesters choose Globo buildings as their target.

Protesters, social movements and activists of the Workers Party, do protest against the impeachment of the President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff in the city center of São Paulo. April 17, 2016.

Protesters change “Rede Globo” to “Rede Golpe,” meaning “coup.”

Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Precisely to avoid any accusations of inciting mass rallies — as Mr. Miranda now accuses us — the Globo Group covered the protests without ever announcing or reporting on them on its news outlets before they happened. Globo took equal measures regarding rallies for President Dilma Rousseff and against the impeachment: it covered them all, without mentioning them prior to them actually taking place, granting them the same space as was given to the anti-Dilma protests.

That Brazil’s dominant media corporations are right-wing propaganda arms for the rich is not even in reasonable dispute. The universally respected group Reporters Without Borders just this week ranked Brazil 104th in press freedoms, explaining this was due in large part to the fact that its media is owned and controlled by a tiny handful of rich families:

Brazilian media coverage of the country’s current political crisis has highlighted the problem. In a barely veiled manner, the leading national media have urged the public to help bring down President Dilma Rousseff. The journalists working for these media groups are clearly subject to the influence of private and partisan interests, and these permanent conflicts of interests are clearly very detrimental to the quality of their reporting.

Foreign journalists based in Brazil regularly note that leading Brazilian media outlets are the opposite of neutral and unbiased. The Rio-based reporter for Canada’s Globe and Mail, Stephanie Nolen, reported last month on a column in the magazine Veja, which she identified as a magazine that “leans, like most major Brazilian media, to the right.” Long-time Brazil-based journalist Alex Cuadros observed, “Brazil’s mainstream media leans right politically, and its coverage often reflects that.” He added, “There’s very little media criticism in Brazil that isn’t blatantly partisan, so big magazines can distort facts without much fear of censure.”

Folha columnist Celso Rocha de Barros has documented how Brazil’s dominant media obsess on corruption stories about PT while downplaying or ignoring equally shocking corruption stories about opposition leaders they like. Globo, for instance, virtually buried news of the Odebrecht list, which identified numerous leading opposition figures who received highly questionable payments. One Globo commentator, Arnaldo Jabor, even depicted the list as a government conspiracy.

Compare the 14 minutes Jornal Nacional spent melodramatically re-enacting the recorded Lula telephone calls like they were a soap opera, to the 2 minutes and 23 seconds it devoted the Odebrecht list. Neither of these two cases contained proven criminality — the justification Jornal Nacional used for not divulging the names on the Odebrecht list.

For more than a year, one Globo-owned Epoca magazine cover after the next used manipulative, demonizing art to incite the public in favor of impeachment. The Twitter feeds of Globo’s stars — both news and entertainment — are filled every day with pro-impeachment propaganda. Even when Jornal Nacional tries to deny that it is placing its heavy finger on the scale in favor of pro-impeachment protests, it cannot help itself: It glorifies those pro-impeachment protests and gives them far more airtime than their pro-democracy counterparts:

[Ed: The two-minute YouTube clip below of a particularly embarrassing and biased Jornal Nacional segment — where anchor William Bonner defends Globo’s coverage as unbiased while simultaneously glorifying pro-impeachment protests — had been up on YouTube for months. But after it was cited in this article as a glaring example of Globo’s bias, it was removed overnight after Globo demanded its removal from YouTube on “copyright” grounds.]

There’s nothing inherently wrong with partisan, activist media. All of those organizations, including Globo, have good journalists working within them, and do some good reporting, including about the serious corruption scandal. But what is wrong is to deceive the public by telling it what everyone knows to be false: that Globo and the other large media corporations are neutral and opinion-free, and that they are merely observers of political events rather than prime movers of them.

The Globo Group did not support the impeachment in editorials. It simply declared that, whatever the outcome, everything had to be conducted according to the Constitution, which in fact has been the case thus far.

João insists that Globo has no editorial position on impeachment, and then — in the very same sentence! — proceeds to justify impeachment as fully legal and constitutional, a position that is very much in dispute among jurists.

The Supreme Court — where eight of 11 justices were appointed by the PT administrations of presidents Lula and Dilma — has approved the entire process.

In fact, the Supreme Court has not ruled on whether the accusations against Dilma justify impeachment under the Constitution, and many experts believe — contrary to what João contends — that this is false. One former member of that court who oversaw the prosecution of PT officials for the Mensalão scandal, Joaquim Barbosa, said this week that he “has a ‘bad feeling’ about the fundamentals of the impeachment process against Dilma and that the allegations ‘are weak and a cause of discomfort.’”

Of course, it’s permissible for João to disagree with former Justice Barbosa and numerous other experts questioning or outright opposing impeachment on legal and constitutional grounds. But he should stop pretending that he is not supporting impeachment. Everything João wrote in his response to me proves that he is.

Lastly, the assertion that the Globo Group leads the national media, especially coming from a Brazilian citizen, can only be made in bad faith. The Brazilian press is a vast and plural landscape of several independent organizations, 784 daily printed newspapers, 4,626 radio stations, five national television broadcast networks, 216 paid cable channels and another multitude of news websites. Everyone competes with great zeal for the Brazilian audience, which in turn is free to make its choices. Among strong competitors, what one finds is independence, without any tolerance for being led.

The only “bad faith” is João’s attempt to deny his own media corporation’s dominance. In June 2014, The Economist published an article about Globo. The headline? “Globo Domination.” It reported that “no fewer than 91 million people, just under half the population, tune in to it each day: the sort of audience that, in the United States, is to be had only once a year” –– the Super Bowl. In sum, “Globo is surely Brazil’s most powerful company, given its reach into so many homes.”

Many of the outlets João cites are owned by Globo and its plutocratic sister, Abril. Explained The Economist: “Globo counts pay-TV stations, magazines, radio, film production and newspapers as part of its empire.” As a result, “critics are unsettled by the firm’s share of advertising and audience. It controls everything from Brazilians’ access to news to the market rates for journalists’ salaries.”

As the columnist Vanessa Barbara wrote last year in the New York Times: “Everywhere I go there’s a television turned on, usually to Globo, and everybody is staring hypnotically at it.” And: “Being Latin America’s biggest media company, Globo can exert considerable influence on our politics.”

That Globo plays a dominant role in shaping public opinion is proven by the data, but also by the government’s actions. Under both Lula and Dilma, the Brazilian government has shoveled billions of dollars in taxpayer money to the media giant.

It is true that Globo does not own all of the influential media outlets. There are a small handful of other billionaire families that own most of the rest. When Reporters Without Borders last week published its Ranking of Press Freedom for 2016, it explained Brazil’s low ranking this way: “Media ownership continues to be very concentrated, especially in the hands of big industrial families that are often close to the political class.”

It is not just media ownership that lacks diversity, but also those they hire to report. As Folha documented last year, “Of 555 columnists and bloggers of eight media vehicles (Folha, O Estadão de S. Paulo, O Globo, Epoca, Veja, G1, UOL and R7), six are black. The debate over racism thus occurs with great distance from the majority of the population which, day after day, it affects and interests.” Of course, this massive disparity shapes news coverage generally.

It is true that internet is threatening Globo’s dominance. Social media has allowed Brazilians to share information outside of Globo’s empire, and Brazilians can now read articles in foreign papers (such as The Guardian) that provide information far beyond the narrow range of opinion permitted by Globo, Abril/Veja, and Estadão.

That’s precisely why João is lashing out at articles like mine in foreign newspapers: because he’s scared of what will happen when he loses control over the information flow Brazilians receive. As the Marinho family has known since the mid-1990s, when Roberto Marinho had a Brazilian court bar the broadcasting of a highly critical film about Globo (Beyond Citizen Kane) only for it to go viral, the internet is threatening Globo’s monopoly on news and public opinion. That’s why they’re angry. It’s also why it’s so vital — as I explain in this video — to protect and safeguard free, equal access to the internet.

[Click “Settings” for English subtitles]

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