Globo: from coup-plotting to far-right contestations – Part 1

By Gabriel Deslandes.

There’s something unforeseen stirring up in the empire of the biggest telecommunications network in Latin America. For the first time in a while, Rede Globo is confronted with adversaries contesting its’ power. For more than 50 years, the Globo group consolidated its absolute influence as the institution which is capable of not only setting the behavioral trends of Brazilian culture, but also the decisions of Heads of State in their government programs. During the military dictatorship and after the redemocratization of Brazil, Globo’s editorial line oriented what governing authorities should or should not do in accordance with their corporate interests and also what the population’s opinions should be.

The left-wing activists already have a formed opinion that Globo is “coup-plotting”. The network was a decisive agent in the support of opposition groups against president Dilma Rousseff, being a protagonist in the controversial process which led to the impeachment and toppling of Dilma’s government. For left-wing activists, Dilma, despite her difficulties, was a legitimately elected president who suffered a parliamentary coup which came from a collusion of a corrupt Congress and business sectors revolted by the economic recession. This narrative is supported not only by the recent political events in Brazil, but also by Globo’s past relations with owners of power.

However, what political parties of progressive social movements didn’t expect was witnessing Globo, their main enemy in the informative field, being now called “communist” and “leftist”, as will be shown in series of analyses for Brasil Wire. It has become more and more common in social networks to see attacks on Globo for the most unexpected reasons, with accusations that the network defends the “destruction of the Christian family”, being called “pro-Lula” (Brazil’s ex-president and Dilma’s political patron), “pro-PT” (Worker’s party) and even “pro-Cuba”. The mistrust of the population in relation to the nation’s biggest network seems to have been channeled towards a path which the Brazilian left did not predict: the extreme right-wing.

It is possible that Globo has a share of responsibility in the growth of these proto-fascist groups promoting the demonization of what is called “Bolivarianism” and by directing an alleged “anti-corruption crusade”. The same part of Brazilian society, mainly the urban middle-class, which directed their moralist discourse against PT now screams at the big media. To understand this phenomenon, amplified by the pulverized power of the Internet, it is necessary to have the historical perspective that it is intimately related to the ancient and recent past of the network, which was not always only a synonym of reactionarism and “coup-plotting”.

The ability to topple and elect presidents

The close relations between the Globo group and big business corporations and representatives inside the State constitute a fact easily situated in the history of the 20th century. The foundation of the TV network in 1965 did not happen less than a year after the Military-coup by mere coincidence. The group’s patriarch, the businessman Roberto Marinho, was a front line supporter of the toppling of the nationalist government of João Goulart and the placement of the military in power. A day after the coup, Roberto Marinho himself published an editorial in the group’s main newspaper O Globo entitled “Democracy resurges” celebrating the “heroism of the Armed Forces” in “saving Brazilians from communization”.

The subscription of Marinho to the coup-staging military was, before anything else, a commercial option. The expansion of television in Brazil was a weapon utilized by the dictatorship to consolidate its project of national integration. For the military, it was necessary to invest in telecommunication infrastructure to implant a model of industrial development favorable to the incoming of foreign capital. For Roberto Marinho, supporting the military regime allowed the Globo group to build a hegemonic communications network and to become one of the world’s biggest media conglomerates.

In this context, the Jornal Nacional – the main daily news broadcast in Brazilian TV, watched by over 90 million spectators – is a creation of the synergy between Globo and the military government’s intention to unify the country not only politically, but also market-wise. It wasn’t a coincidence that the launching of the Jornal Nacional in 1969 happened at the same time as operations of the Brazilian Telecommunications Enterprise (EMBRATEL) began via satellite, founded by the military to create conditions so that telecommunications reached the most distant regions of the country.

With a technical quality and circulation never before seen, the Jornal Nacional consolidated the professionalization of Brazilian TV production, and even though it was made by a private television network, gave the spectators the sensation of enjoying a public service. In the news broadcast, the censorship and self-censorship of negative news in Brazil marked the pact between Globo and the dictatorship. The general-president Emilio Garrastazu Médici declared in the 70’s: “I feel very happy at night when I turn on the TV to watch the news. While in other parts of the world, the news talk of strikes, upheavals, attacks and conflicts, Brazil keeps a steady peaceful march towards development”.

With the pressure of civil society for political opening and direct elections in the beginning of the 80’s, Globo knew how to quickly adapt its soft power to act within the game of liberal democracy. The rejection to the continuity of the military regime coincided with the network’s vocation to influence the electorate to vote on candidates of their preference. In the first governor elections in 1982, for example, Globo was accused of participating in the “Proconsul Case”, where remaining agents of the dictatorship tried to defraud – without success – the system of vote counting in order to prevent the left-wing nationalist Leonel Brizola, a notorious enemy of Roberto Marinho, from becoming governor of Rio de Janeiro.

The mediatization of the political process is a phenomenom which Globo has had ample control of. Already after the first presidential election after the end of military regime in 1989, Globo proved how dominating media image is a decisive factor in politics when they promoted the young conservative candidate Fernando Collor de Mello, an artifice for the introduction of neoliberalism in Brazil, against the Worker’s Party (PT) candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. With the objective of manipulating public opinion against the left-wing candidate, the network edited the presidential debate in order to highlight the best of Collor and the worst of Lula. As a president, Collor witnessed the abandonment of the same network who sold him as the “maharajah hunter” and which helped him get elected. Collor turned against Roberto Marinho by trying to create his own telecommunications empire and ended up being removed from office by Globo. When corruption scandals of his government began mobilizing the masses for his impeachment, the network gave ample journalistic coverage to the protests, reinforcing its’ reputation of being able to elect and remove presidents.

During the neoliberal government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002), of PSDB, the Globo network played a central role in making it a national consensus the defense of market reforms and the ideology of an open economy. It also maintained a balanced position in the beginning of the Lula’s government in 2003 (the same year Roberto Marinho died) when he made clear that his social project of income distribution did not implicate abrupt changes in the macroeconomics of Brazil. The 2002 electoral victory by Lula was, as opposed to the 1989 elections, marked by a greater “impartialness” on the coverage of the main candidates, with the clear objective of avoiding controversy.

Globo in the Dilma Rousseff era

The first explicit split between Globo and the Lula administration happened in 2005, with the coverage of the so called “mensalão” scandal. The Worker’s party was accused of making fictitious loans for buying the support of 18 parliament members so they would vote in favor of the government in the Chamber of Deputies. The Worker’s Party always denied the accusations of bribery, but the repercussion of the case in the press stained the reputation of the history of the party and of Lula himself. The big media used the allegations to convince Brazilians that PT, ever considered to be the “ethical party” of Brazil, was being the protagonist of the “greatest corruption scandal in the history of Brazil”.

It is necessary to associate the media exposure of the accusations against PT in 2005 to a fundamental factor: in the political history of Brazil, the narrative of “war against corruption” was always useful to conservatives. Political moralism has become a flag for the right-wing to mobilize public opinion against specific targets.  It is evident that corruption in Brazil is a deeply serious problem which deserves the attention of society, but the “defense of ethics” speech tends to promote conservative political-party positions. Globo emphasized the denunciation tactic against the supposed corruption of PT in order to press Lula into accepting the demands of the enterprise, like the decree that made official the system of digital TV in Brazil and the appointment of and former employee of the network, the journalist Hélio Costa, as minister of Communications .

Although they did not create an institutional crisis, the accusations against PT’s political leaders in the mensalão scandal contributed, for the first time, to build the image of complicity of the party with illicit acts. The coverage of this episode by the press was decisive to catalyze the rejection of Lula within sectors of the middle class and crystalizing that polarization of politics between PT and PSDB in the 2006 elections which prevails until this day. According to political scientist André Singer, the poorer voters, who receive benefits from social policies and economic growth during the Lula’s administration became PT’s electoral basis, while the higher wage voters, more susceptible to media narratives, shunned away from the party. His government conquered the support of an expressive basis of the population by the activation of the economy stimulating consumption and generation of jobs, which gave Lula a record of 87% of popular approval and helped him elect Dilma Rousseff in 2010 and 2014.

At the same time, during the Lula and Rousseff administrations, Globo not only maintained its hegemony in the market, but also presented profits in all the years between 2005 and 2016. The accumulated profit in that period was equivalent to 28 billion reais, averaging 2,54 billion reais a year. Even though the Globo group is an oligopoly, the PT party never took the initiative to fight concentration of property in the communications sector of Brazil and democratizing access to information, some which is guaranteed in the article 220 of the Constitution. Every initiative to regulate the sector was demonized, especially by Globo itself, as an “attempt to censor the press”.

The coverage of the mass protests in June 2013 against the raise of municipal bus fares proves Globo’s ability to modify its’ own discourse in order to capitalize on social indignation. The network, which initially highlighted the “acts of vandalism”, stopped criminalizing the protesters and began to incite them against Dilma Rousseff’s government. The demands for better public services and the denunciation of the crisis of representative democracy in Brazil were instrumentalized by Globo by the means of generic slogans “against corruption and impunity”.

The most emblematic case was that of political commentator Arnaldo Jabor, who called the protesters “dumb and resentful” and, three days later, exalted the “awakening of the youth”. This change of editorial position and the attempt to influence the protests also became evident in the column of political analyst Merval Pereira in the newspaper O Globo. The columnist, who initially associated the protests to the “manipulation of political activities by radical and anarchic groups”, published an article categorically entitled “Corruption is the focus”, emphasizing that the “common thread of these protest” was the “battle against corruption”.  

One of Rousseff’s answers to the 2013 protests was the creation of a law called Anticorruption Law, which determined administrative and civil responsibility of companies in the acts of corruption. The law instituted, amongst other measures, the plea bargain agreements, by which a company could obtain a reduction in fines if it admitted the act of corruption and cooperated with the investigations. Amongst the penalties are the interdiction of that company and the prohibition of Public incentives. The new legislation, along with the appointment of an independent attorney-general – Rodrigo Janot – by Dilma herself in September 2013, helped create investigative mechanisms which would guide a juridical-police spectacle with the visceral support of the journalism of the Globo group: the Operation Lava Jato (Car Wash).