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Police officers and firefighters in Rio de Janeiro protesting their lack of pay as the Olympics approach are engaged in “ethically reprehensible” actions “bordering on terrorism,” according to an editorial on Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro’s largest newspaper, O Globo. The newspaper, a property of Grupo Globo, which is owned and controlled by the billionaire Marinho family, is Brazil’s dominant media conglomerate and a primary sponsor and beneficiary of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
In attacking the police, the paper was not criticizing the epidemic of police killings of black and brown youth, nor the militarized occupation of many of Rio’s slums that has failed to improve public security, nor the criminal gangs of off-duty and former officers, known as milícias, that violently control and extort vast swaths of the city. Instead, Globo’s indignation was targeted at public servants nonviolently demonstrating for a basic worker’s right — being paid — as part of a protest that happens to threaten Globo’s own business interests worth hundreds of millions of dollars, a fact the paper neglected to disclose to its readers.
“Welcome to Hell. Police and firefighters don’t get paid; Whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe,” read a sign in English held by disgruntled police officers in Rio’s international airport on Monday, just weeks before the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics. The state of Rio, after wasting billions on lavish corporate tax breaks and delayed, over-budget Olympic construction contracts with notoriously corrupt firms, has declared a financial emergency, forcing it to cut benefits, postpone paying salaries and pensions to public workers, and slash operating budgets. Police and firefighters have for months been in conflict with the state over budget shortfalls. The state’s teachers union has been on strike for nearly four months.
Last week, the federal government announced an emergency cash injection of $890 million (2.9 billion reals) to help staunch the bleeding. Meanwhile, police units are running shortages on gasoline, printer ink, toilet paper, and even water, while violence surges out of control. Fifty-nine police officers have been killed in the state so far this year, and parts of the capital resemble low-intensity war zones as poorly trained, under-equipped police engage heavily armed criminal gangs in daily shootouts. Fed-up police officers, with support from their leadership, are threatening to go on strike during the Olympics if they do not get paid.
“To play against Rio-2016 is the irresponsible and counterproductive option,” wrote O Globo, while suggesting the police were politically motivated and “sponsored” by unions (a clear allusion to the union-backed Workers’ Party of suspended president Dilma Rousseff, against which all major Globo outlets have vociferously campaigned). “This should be handled domestically, within the appropriate sphere — never through blackmail against an event that will bring benefits to the state’s finances.”
What the scathing editorial fails to mention, however, is that O Globo is a major player in the Olympic Games, with a huge investment on the line: Its parent company, the sprawling Grupo Globo media empire, is an official supplier and sponsor of the 2016 Olympics, and, along with two other networks, it paid the International Olympic Committee $190 million for nationwide television broadcast and streaming rights to the 2014 and 2016 games. Globo has an additional exclusive broadcast contract for 2016 through 2032 for an undisclosed amount.
According to AdAge, the Globo network has sold $420 million in an Olympics package “that includes a vast number of ads and mentions on TV and Globo.com” to other official sponsors like Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Bradesco bank, and the wireless telecom company Claro.
“The editorial calls it ‘irresponsible’ to ‘play against’ the Olympic Games, as if we should all be proud to host an event that supposedly benefits all citizens indiscriminately,” Sylvia Moretzsohn, a journalism professor at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, told The Intercept. “It is the same old trick: Speak in the general interest to erase the existence of very particular interests,” she continued.
Disclosure of conflicts of interest — real or perceived — is a basic principle of journalistic ethics.
Last year, Grupo Globo, Latin America’s largest media conglomerate, saw gross revenues of nearly $5 billion (16 billion reals) and banked just under $1 billion (3 billion reals) in profit. Each of the three Marinho brothers who control it has an estimated net worth of $5.2 billion. The salary of a new recruit in Rio’s military police amounts to a little more than $800 a month (2,726 reals); a civil police investigator’s salary is slightly less than $1,300 (4,190 reals) a month.
O Globo and its parent company did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment.
“This is not the first time that O Globo replaced journalism with propaganda,” notes Moretzsohn. “But I recognize that it is difficult to create propaganda when the country is going through its biggest political crisis since the end of dictatorship, and is being closely monitored by the foreign press.”