Globo: Evangelical ascension, a threat to its hegemony – Part 3

By Gabriel Deslandes.

The successive institutional crises of Brazil, along with the social chaos provoked by the economic crisis, installed a climate of an apparently unforseen collective mistrust which all conventional politicians seem to be engulfed in. Globo, whose responsibility in this was central, couldn’t be out of this conjuncture. The network, who never inspired sympathy from the left and split to side with Temer’s administration now was also being the target of hate – easily amplified by social networks of ultra conservative sectors of Brazilian society.

One of the main sources of rejection to Globo came from the ascension of evangelical fundamentalism in the country, concentrated in a parcel of pentecostal churches. The growth of evangelism became a challenge to the historic power of Globo in its ability to articulate with politics in the National Congress and to guaranteeing TV time in different networks for preaching. Not by mere chance, Globo’s main competitor is TV Record, a property of bishop Edir Macedo, leader of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), one of the most powerful neopentecostal churches in Brazil.

In the journalism of Record, critical reports on Globo are frequent.  TV Record knew how to exploit its major rival’s antipathy to the PT and tried a programmatic approximation to the Lula administration, presenting a balanced coverage of the president’s policies. It gave support to the election of Dilma Rousseff in 2010, in a clear counterpoint to Globo’s editorial line. The Jornal da Record, Record’s main news broadcast, came to the point of denying a supposed aggression suffered by the opposition’s candidate José Serra of the PSDB party. In the municipal elections of 2016, Macedo upheld an unforeseen political victory when his nephew and also bishop at his church, senator Marcelo Crivella, was elected mayor of Rio de Janeiro, exactly were Globo networks has its’ headquarters.

The rivalry between bishop Edir Macedo’s TV network and Globo grows at the same rate as the evangelical population in Brazil. According to the 2010 Census of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), there are 42,3 million evangelicals in the country. In a time lapse of 40 years, this group leaped from 5,2% of the population to 22,2%.  In the view of political scientist Cesar Romero Jacob, one of the reasons for this expansion is in the dissemination of this religion in poorer areas of metropolitan regions, where there is a power vacuum left by the bureaucratic structure of the Catholic Church. In these spaces, the evangelical churches not only inspire a possibility of social ascension by the “Theology of Prosperity”, but also use an ideal of “preservation of the family” as a factor of community unity in a socially marginalized ambient marked by violence.

In the center of the evangelical rise, popular denominations of the more conservative lines are strengthened, who are opposed to flexibility in customs and behavior, such as the Assembleia de Deus (God’s Assembly) and the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God itself. The followers of these neopentecostal churches represent an important market niche and also like to see themselves represented on TV. In order to please these spectators, TV Record has been investing on the telenovelas (soap operas), another exclusive trademark of Globo. However, TV Record differentiates itself in the type of prime time soap operas: all of them have biblical themes.

A symbol of Brazil around the world, Globo’s soaps have reached the status of most profitable product of the cultural industry of Brazil playing a part in the entertainment of millions of spectators.  Now, Record wants to conquer this market by the use of “faith”, guaranteeing an audience and publicity for the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and its bishops. The biggest case of success of this “biblical soap opera” is the soap opera Os Dez Mandamentos (“The Ten Commandments”), based on the History of Moses . The production threatened to surpass Globo’s Jornal Nacional in captivating viewers during prime time.

Nonetheless, for evangelical groups who controlled or watched Record, disputing viewer time with Globo wasn’t enough. Pastors linked to neopentecostal fundamentalism have been promoting brutal attacks on the content of Globo’s novelas. Specifically for Record and for the church of which it is property of, the objective is to hamper its rival in attracting Christian viewers in general.  The persuasion tactic bases itself on fear, reminiscent of North American McCarthyist movements of the 1950’s and of the “Cultural Wars” in the 1980’s: “The soap operas of Globo attempt to corrupt our children, destroy the traditional family and promote pedophilia, homosexuality and the consumption of drugs” .

Rebellion against the social progressiveness of Globo

Christian Conservatism is far from being a recent phenomenon in the History of Brazil, having a political agenda very prone to manipulation by hegemonic groups. It was conservatism which motivated the middle class of São Paulo to promote the “March of the Family with God for Liberty” in March of 1964, a strongly catholic manifestation, which served as the basis of the military coup. Decades later, conservatism went out to the streets again during the protests for Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, with the parading of supporters of a “military intervention” and even asking for a “return to monarchy”. During both historical moments, the Globo was supportive of pro-impeachment movements and pretended not to see the authoritarian character of these groups.

Nonetheless, if Globo’s journalism has always been adept to political and economic conservatism, these editorial positions from the right do not sum up all of the network’s program. It’s entertainment sector counts with a significant amount of freedom for artistic production, often giving space to progressive themes, especially in soap operas and series. Even during the military dictatorship, Globo was a pioneer in bringing social critique to TV drama. In 1973, the network broadcasted the soap opera O Bem-Amado”, a satire of national politics written by communist dramatist Dias Gomes, having 37 of its 178 episodes cut up by military censorship.

Another one of Globo’s marks which defied military authority and showed the network’s vocacion for counterculture in the field of customs was the series “Malu Mulher”, which had a divorced woman as a protagonist. The series, a pioneer in the promotion of female empowerment, was aired soon after the legalization of divorce in Brazil.  Since then, feminist discourse became present, using accessible language, in other programs which became television classics like the musical Mulher 80, showcasing some of the best Brazilian female singers then, or even the contemporary TV show Amor & Sexo, which became popular for being didactic and good-humored in its treatment of feminist issues, sexuality and gender roles.

Always attentive to signs of social and cultural transformation, the network counts episodes of pioneering spirit, more so after the re-democratization of Brazil. The adhesion of Globo to certain points of the liberal agenda in terms of customs reverberates as pressure for human rights by a part of organized civil society. Illustrative of this is the instant fomenting of the discussion on bioethics and the Islamic World with the soap opera O Clone, a mega success which was exported to over 90 countries , in a context not only of the debate of human cloning, but also of issues connected to 9/11 terrorists attacks. Even the military dictatorship, which Globo supported editorially, became a backdrop for the miniseries Anos Rebeldes (1992), Queridos Amigos (2008) and Os Dias Eram Assim (2017), denouncing the political repression and State terrorism of such a regime.

It is probable that the main motivation for the reaction of ultraconservative Christians to Globo’s programs came from its’ approach on tolerance for sexual diversity. From children’s adoption by homosexual couples to the concept of gender identity and trans sexuality, more than 80 GLBT characters were interpreted in Globo’s programs since 1970. In partnership with UN Women, UNESCO, UNICEF and UNAIDS, the network launched the platform “Tudo começa pelo respeito” (Everything begins with Respect) looking to promote the rights of sexual and ethnic minorities.

The great controversy came with a soap opera called “Amor à Vida”, which exhibited the first gay kiss in prime time Brazilian TV. The scene split the country which has record annual rates in assassination of homosexuals – 343 deaths only in 2016, according to a report by NGO Gay Group of Bahia – and generated harsh responses from the political world. The pastor and state depute of Bahia, Sargento Isidório (PSB), who describes himself as “ex-gay” sued Globo, stating in his petition that “The family is the essence of society, and must be preserved.” In another soap opera, a homosexual kiss happened once again, senator Magno Malta (PR) and João Campos (PRB), both evangelic wrote a letter of protest in the National Congress. “Apology of evil. Produced to destroy families. Share, don’t give space to this threat disguised as entertainment. Don’t watch it”, as Malta wrote on his Facebook page. The fact is that Globo’s soap operas intensified the representation of the reality of homosexuals and other minorities in Brazilian society, and this movement collides with the viewpoint of traditional religious leaders – neopentecostal, but also catholic – about the mere use of public expression GLBT and feminists. Speculations about a “gay dictatorship” in Brazil became frequent, or the imposition of power by gay politicians. The intellectual basis for this would be that which conservatives called “gender ideology”, a widely used expression.

The term “gender ideology” presupposes gender identity as an object of indoctrination, as a result of an operating discourse to convert people. Inside this reactionary perspective, the debates about gender and sexuality are built in Machiavellian fashion “inverting” the social relation people have with their own sexuality. Conservatives depart from the dogma that the construction of someone’s identity as man or woman I necessarily linked to what society teaches as boy or girl behavior. In this way, the teaching of gender issues in schools supposedly covered up a plot to promote a cultural and sexual revolution amongst the children which would end up perverting the traditional nucleus of the family.

The belief in this supposed “gender ideology” – one which has no analytical or scientific basis to even exist, being more like a myth – took frightening proportions in Brazil. In 2015, Christian parliamentary groups pressed for the exclusion of gender and sexuality themes in the National Education Plan. In December 2017, the National Education Counsel (CNE) excluded those same terms from the National Curricular Base. Not only in schools, but in Globo’s soap operas the presence of this supposed “ideology” represented a spearhead in this offensive for “moral depravation”.

What’s most curious about this whole “crusade against moral values and good customs” is the association that Christian fundamentalists make between such a “gender ideology” and… communism. Calling the great commercial media “communist” could be understood, in principle, as a simple cognitive lapse. However, as journalist Eliane Blum states, it is also a new construction of meaning “with little or no connection with the original concept of communism.” The appropriation of this concept has its roots in a great conspiracy theory of the far-right, which, in practice, has a theoretical weakness analogous to the thesis of “gender analogy”: “Cultural Marxism”.

In short, “cultural Marxism” is a concept diffused by the ideologists of American paleoneoconservatism, Pat Buchanan and William S. Lind. According to this theory, there is a joint action of governments and institutions in global scale to mine the values of “Western culture”, including the hegemony of Christianity, by the means of insidious forms of psychological manipulation. “Cultural Marxism” supposedly had been forged by Frankfurt School authors, like Adorno, Max Horkmeimer, Herbet Marcuse and Walter Benjamin, who supposedly idealized the subversion of Christian morality of European man and to impose a cultural relativism with methods capable of destroying capitalism. In this way, Christian values would be malevolently eliminated and substituted in the minds of the working class by the revolutionary class conscience, leading then to communism.

In order to promote “cultural Marxism”, institutions inside the capitalist system, including the big media, would be perniciously implementing a social engineering agenda, of which atheism, feminism, secularism, ecumenism, the “politically correct”, multiculturalism, and obviously, the GLBT movement. These ideologies were supposedly influencing high ranks of important social organization, political and cultural – from universities to Hollywood studios – in order to corrupt the nuclear family, education, public administration, conventional hierarchies of gender and heteronormativity, among other “Christian western values”. Therefore, in the phantasy of these conservatives, when Globo exhibits manifestations of homosexual affection, it is in fact looking to manipulate the minds of spectators by the means of “cultural Marxism”.

“Breed crows, and they will take out your eyes”

All this conspiratorial engineering of “cultural Marxism”, which negates the elementary principles of the Enlightenment, ended up being exported mainly to the United States, by the means of blogs and far-right websites reaching beyond social media, influencing real politics. The mere popularity of these conspiracy theories demystifies the belief of “horizontality” in web society, supposed to give everyone the same speech power and influence.

The truth is that the rise of these ultraconservative ideological niches proves how the internet, lots of times seen as a “promise of freedom of information”, not only covers up and reproduces power relations pre-existing to the virtual world. It also creates an ambience of informational insecurity by the means of the so called “fake news”, lots of propaganda by far-right organizations with disastrous political consequences.

Certain ultra-right groups have developed a power of digital influence which reflects the very stratified structure of action and financing. Movements organized through social media turned to the promotion of the liberal-conservative ideology have he participation, as an example, of Atlas Network, an international foundation articulated with US think tanks of political groups of alleged “spontaneous” nature such as the Movimento Brasil Livre (Free Brazil Movement), or MBL, and Vem Pra Rua (Come to the street). Atlas Network has a chain of courses throughout Latin America for the formation of young leaders, seminars and intense use of social media, which includes the dissemination of lies as a propaganda weapon.

What’s interesting to observe is that a good part of these organizations participated in mobilizations in favor of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and were presented by Globo’s coverage as symbols of the exercise of democracy and of the “anticorruption crusade” or as the new faces of political liberalism. During the toppling of Dilma’s government, the ideologists of these conservative groups had a free pass in the big media, being invited to debates and interviews about the national political framework and the impeachment process.

The case of Free Brazil Movement (MBL) reflects how these organizations grew with the anti-PT speech and, with the end of Rousseff’s administration, had to diversify their agenda in order to contemplate a heterogeneous public. The ascension of Michel Temer and the implantation of unpopular neoliberal reforms, supported ideologically by the MBL, obligated the group to diminish their rhetoric of pro-market, pro-minimal State and the “fight against corruption”. The movement adhered to “behavioral flags” and to controversies of moral nature since it now had no interest in removing the president.

In an episode of national repercussion in September 2017, the MBL spread panic in social media because of the art exhibit Queermuseu – Cartografias da Diferença na Arte Brasileira” (Cartography of differences in Brazilian art), exhibited in Santander Cultural in the city of Porto Alegre. The art exhibit, with over 270 works that explored the diversity of gender expression, was accused by the MBL of “apology to pedophilia and zoophilia” and “blasphemy with a religious cult”, fomenting a wave of moral indignation. The negative repercussion forced Santander Cultural to cancel the exposition, and ended up reaching Globo in that its actors and actresses condemned MBL attacks as an act of censorship.

Since then, Globo became a target of boycott campaigns, promoted by MBL, religious leaders and other segments of the ultra-right, after presenting in the Sunday program Fantástico two reports about gender issues during childhood and the freedom of expression in Brazil. The reports, which presented religious intolerance and the persecution of the exhibition, motivated protests against the network in social media. The hashtag #GloboLixo became first place in Twitter’s trending topics, followed by posts from MBL’s Facebook page – which has more than two million followers – accusing Globo of imposing the so-called “gender ideology”. Artists, linked or not to the network, who created the movement “342 arts – Against censorship and defamation” as a response to the conservative attacks to the freedom of expression, were called “pedophiles”, “druggies” and “degenerates”.

Among these post against the presumed “defense of pedophilia by the Queermuseu”, laughable associations between Globo and even the bank Santander, who promoted the exhibition, with communism. This type of unfounded accusation – a media oligopoly and a bank being called “communists” – reflects the popularization of ultraconservative thesis on “cultural Marxism”. A climate was created in Brazil were moral themes are instantly linked to the “communist threat” in the same ways that investigating committees of Mccarthyism looked to free the U.S from the “reds” (communists) and the “lavandas” (homosexuals).

The importance of an anti “cultural Marxism” brought along with the attacks the Tea Party and the Alt-Right make on the liberal U.S press. In this way, the journalism of the Globo group, a historical propagandist of the “free market” ideal, suffers from accusations of “leftism” in all the occasions in which it opens space for discussions on abortion, legalization of drugs, prohibition of the civilian armament, immigration and global warming. The mere showing of these themes is enough pretext for far-right columnists and blog articulators even from vehicles of great circulation, like VEJA magazine, to associate Globo to the implantation of a “New World Order” and, in a smaller scale, a “totalitarian agenda of the Foro de São Paulo”, Latin American conference of left-wing political parties and organizations of which PT is the founder.

Ascribing a supposed “support to PT” by Globo, one of the most active political actors in Dilma’s impeachment, is on the verge of a delirium, but it is a more common opinion than it seems. The points of convergence between PT and Globo, seen as symptoms of “ideological alignment”, are generally centered on individual freedom. In 2011, protestant blogger Julio Severo, for example, accused the network of acting in favor of the “gay agenda” promoted by the Special Secretariat for Human Rights of Dilma Rousseff’s administration’s when it aired an anti-homophobia campaign on TV.

In the international field, columnist Klauber Pires, of Midia Sem Máscara (Unmasked Media), went beyond: It accused a special report from Jornal Nacional about Cuba, openly critical of the island’s socialist regime, by “painting political pressure in pink” and hiding “Castro’s other atrocities”. The reason? The dissident Yoáni Sanchez, who is, in his opinion, “a misinformation agent from the communist regime itself”, was interviewed by the reporters. In another aberrant act, the conservative blog Ceticismo Político (Political Skepticism) claimed that the Globo’s news website, G1, was trying to “hide the dictatorship in Venezuela” and that it benefitted “the psychopath dictator Nicolás Maduro” since the channel republished a BBC report demystifying some information about Venezuelan political and economic crisis.

2018: an unprecedented juncture for Globo 

Another political phenomenon of the far-right who chose Globo as one of its’ preferential targets was congressman Jair Bolsonaro. An apologist of the military dictator governments, the death penalty and torture as a police method, Bolsonaro became known for his opinions regarding homosexuality and women’s rights. As a pre-candidate for the 2018 election, he is now the most influential politician in social media with 4.7 million followers on Facebook, acting completely in the margins of traditional media and mobilizing a young electorate tired of conventional politics. Ranking second in electoral surveys, Bolsonaro is a phenomenon hard to ignore by the press, which considers him a candidate without technical conditions to govern, displaying an unstable behavior.

It didn’t take long for the Globo group to react to the rise of his candidacy. In an article of newspaper O Globo, the congressman was denounced for nepotism when employing relatives in his cabinet at the Chamber of Deputies. Bolsonaro’s reaction was to increase his attacks on the communications group: he threatened to reduce publicity money from the Federal government to Globo, in case he became president. “I’m not going to persecute you. I’m going to pay you what you deserve”, he told the network’s journalists. Ironically, the congressman tends to argue his support of the dictatorship reading the editorial “Democracy resurges” from the newspaper O Globo, written by Roberto Marinho in March 1964, saluting the military coup. In addition to that, his electoral campaign for 2018 has an advisor columnist of O Globo, Paulo Guedes, a neoliberal economist.

The far-right pre-candidate sees and pro PT in the criticism directed towards him by the Globo group, accusing the network of working to elect Lula in 2018”. According to Bolsonaro, Globo desires to elect Lula with the objective of “renegotiating the company’s debt with National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES)”. Such conspiracy paradoxically comes at a time of great hostility of Lula and the PT party against the network, when the ex-president has defended a new regulatory landmark for communication media, which would directly affect the business of the Globo group. However, the rumor of Globo’s accession to Lula in the 2018 elections has fooled even the president Michel Temer, who believed in a fake Whatsapp audio, attributed to Luiz Nascimento, director of Globo’s popular variety show Fantástico. The message said that network was preparing for “Lula’s comeback” and even was going to insert red hues in the company’s logo, in a clear demonstration of their supposed alignment with the left.

At any rate, Bolsonaro has alerted Globo as to the possible election of Lula in 2018 and to the “risk” of the implementation of PT’s project of regulating commercial media: “Lula is promising social control of the media. You might get happy when everybody starts to write for the Granma, that puny Cuba newspaper which is good only for throwing in the toilet”. This debauched comment gives evidence to the one truth behind his declarations – Globo has no control whatsoever or a prediction about the political future of post-Temer Brazil.

Even after all the employed energy in the demonization of PT until the fall of Dilma Rousseff in 2016, Lula is the candidate that leads the election surveys for 2018, leading all the scenarios of voter preference polls in first and second rounds of election. The selective association of PT with scandals of corruption, promoted by Globo for years, was insufficient to erase from popular memory the ideals of social justice and economic growth identified by the population. Simultaneously, the network does not see itself in the condition of supporting Jair Bolsonaro, a completely unpredictable candidate, with no administrative experience, no party structure and a significant popular rejection. Lula’s arrest, condemned in first and second instances in a controversial trial of Operation Car Wash, and his impediment to run for president put Bolsonaro automatically in the lead of voter preference polls.

In a more serious instance, one can explain the pressure of the Globo group onto the Federal Supreme Court (STF) demanding the negation of the preventive Habeas Corpus for Lula which would permit him to appeal in freedom against his condemnation until the use of all judicial recourses. The day before the Court’s voting of Lula’s appeal for an Habeas Corpus, the Jornal Nacional ended its edition with two tweets by the Army’s commander-in-chief general Villas Bôas, where he says “I share all good citizen’s repudiation of corruption” and that the Army “is attentive to its’ institutional missions”. The menacing tone of these messages from the general evidences the pressure by the Armed Forces on the Supreme Court of the country, in other words, the interference of a power of the Republic onto another, tacitly endorsed by the network.

With the anticipated elimination of Lula in the presidential run, what is now at stake for Globo is the continuity of the “reformist” platform of Michel Temer, maintaining of the economic policy of the present president and leaving untouched the approved unpopular reforms. Squeezed between the possibility of Lula’s return and the conversion of the popularity of the far-right in electoral results, the network has been looking desperately for a “center oriented candidacy”, clean of “radicalisms” and apt to please “markets”. With a demoralized traditional political class involved in corruption accusations, Globo cogitated betting on an outsider, which would represent the “new”. For this, it even speculated an alternate candidacy of its TV show presenter Luciano Huck, who turned down the invitation to run for the presidency.

For the first time in decades, the Globo group seems to be aware of its impotency. The network reaps the fruits of its’ acritical support of the “judicialisation of politics” promoted by the “heroes” of Car Wash’s task force. It also deals with the consequences of underrating and even fomenting the activism of the extreme-right when it was useful to its’ efforts of destroying the Workers’ Party. Despite the power of its’ empire – Roberto Irineu, João Roberto e José Roberto, sons of Roberto Marinho are still the richest family in Brazil, with an estimated fortune of US$ 28,9 billion -, the executives of their network had to swallow Lula’s words: “If Globo has a candidate for next year’s election, I’ll stamp their logo on his forehead.”