By Brian Mier.
The political situation in Brazil is getting confusing, even for people who study it. To summarise recent events, in April the organized left held the largest general strike in Latin America this Century, demanding for a halt to the austerity reforms and for illegitimate president Michel Temer’s immediate resignation. On May 24, it held largest street protest in Brasilia’s history. In June, a second general strike shut down Belo Horizonte and Brasilia, but did not effect the transportation systems in Rio or São Paulo after the 5 million strong, conservative union federation, the Força Sindical, pulled out at the last minute. In July, ex president Lula was sentenced to 9.5 years in jail, pending appeal, with no concrete evidence. As Lula’s lawyers began appealing the sentence in a process that will certainly be delayed until after next year’s presidential elections, for which he is still leading in the polls, current president Michel Temer faced the beginning of an impeachment process in Congress in a scandal involving tens of millions of dollars in bribes and hush money found in Swiss bank accounts and video and audio proof of his involvement. Globo TV network, which was a key actor in last year’s illegal impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, turned on the man it helped put in power but was ignored by the Congress and the public. As a Congress, which has 30% of its members involved in corruption scandals, received R$13 billion in pork and declared Temer innocent, the streets were silent. The middle-class, white, anti-corruption crusaders from last years impeachment era, including the Koch Brothers funded Movimento Brasil Livre, stayed home. Aside from a few road closures, the organized left who were out on the streets in record numbers asking for Temer’s resignation only a few months earlier, stayed home as well. Meanwhile, the major Brazilian media corporations seem to have started a campaign to cancel next years direct presidential elections. In order to make some kind of sense out of these confusing recent events, Brasil Wire called in one of Brasil’s leading authorities on the media. Dr. Ivana Bentes is a communications professor from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, author of 7 books and dozens of academic articles and a long time collaborator with and adviser to Media Ninja, a nation-wide voluntary collective of young activist journalists that has millions of followers on social media.
What is Media Ninja?
Media Ninja is one of the World’s biggest free journalism experiments. It took off during the 2013 public transportation protests, which was an important moment for Brazil. It is a collective, spread across the entire nation, with members living communally, 30-40 to a house, creating alternative and new forms of sustainability where nobody has a job and the people dedicate themselves entirely to the group project which is called Fora do Eixo (Off the Axis). They are very young people acting in networks within the digital culture who are producing this innovative experience in Brazil and they have nearly 2 million followers on Facebook. They acted as protagonists during the 2013 transportation protests through streaming broadcasts and renewed the language of citizen journalism in an interesting way, which has produced what they call a Ninja effect, with thousands of young people throughout the entire nation using their smartphones to express their points of view through an understanding that the media should be activist and should not pretend to be impartial. Ninja played a fundamental role in the reaction against the impeachment and is acting as one of the protagonists for resistance on the streets and in the social networks. Ninja is aligned with one of the important social movements in Brazil the MTST, and is connected with the most important leftist congressmen and women in Brazil from the PT, PSOL and REDES parties. It is a group that is non-partisan or post-partisan or trans-partisan and it’s created a team of columnists who come from the most diverse social backgrounds. There is a columnist who is a progressive Evangelical pastor, there is a columnist who is a prostitute who defends sex workers rights, there are columnists who defend GLBT rights, so I understand that it is an important group in Brazil at the moment because it suggests a new form of political movement that is not just based on politics but on the media and on behavior.
Brasil Wire: The media played an important role during last year’s illegal impeachment process against Dilma Rousseff. Now we see that Michel Temer was accused accepting and paying out millions of dollars in bribes and hush money, based on the solid evidence of audio and video which proves his guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt. But Congress recently rejected attempts to initiate impeachment proceedings against him. How has the media reacted to this and how did its reaction differ from the way it treated Rousseff’s impeachment last year?
Ivana Bentes: First of all if you look at the role of the media during the impeachment it is very clear that it was a Judicial/Mediatic coup.
A media group aligned with the financial elites to disqualify the political caste. If you compare the campaign that the media, the judiciary and the financial elites set up for the impeachment to events today it becomes clear that it had nothing to do with corruption and this is absolutely scandalous. – Dr. Ivana Bentes
It wasn’t about political corruption, it was about removing the PT party from power. Because what happened the other day – the victory of Michel Temer who was able to block the investigation against him over clearly proven cases of corruption – made it very clear that we are now in the second moment of this coup. The first moment was to remove this group from power and this second phase is the consolidation of Congress’ management, in close collaboration with the financial sector, of this 1.5 year period before the next presidential elections. This is being done without the people, without democratic representation and apparently with no reaction on the street. Now it is more clear than ever that Dilma was not removed for corruption, because Temer is a corrupt president involved in a proven scandal and he will continue in power. The difference from last year’s impeachment process is that the campaign against Michel Temer is now being carried out without big protests because there is a deep mistrust among the people that replacing Temer with one of his cronies, Rodrigo Maia, will change anything. So there is a deep disbelief- it is shocking that the streets were empty on the day of the Congressional vote on Temer’s corruption charges. People are no longer disputing the presidency – they seem to have lost all belief in the process. So it is a very difficult time. We are stagnating in a swamp where we no longer see the people, revolted, taking to the streets against Michel Temer because it doesn’t matter whether he leaves office or not if he would be substituted by Rodrigo Maia, who is also tangled up with corruption allegations from the Lava Jato investigation. It is a dramatic moment, this second Coup that we are suffering from in Brasil. And look at this, unlike the unanimous media posture in favor of Dilma’s impeachment we actually have a part of the big media turning against Temer. Globo, for example, ran a campaign against Temer. But we are at a moment when this political class, that is deeply ingrained in the cronyist system that depends on public money with a purchased Congress, has won the battle against these media forces.
Why do you think the most powerful media conglomerate in the country, Rede Globo, turned on Temer a few weeks ago, since it was one of the main parties responsible for his rise to the presidency?
My hypothesis is that they did not believe that Temer had the political power to push through the deep austerity reforms to things like the retirement system. But he just proved otherwise. Now that there was an explosion that proves his explicit relationship with corruption, that proves that he is corrupt, it is scandalous to defend him. At this moment, the polls show that 95% of the Brasilian population is against Temer and wants him gone. There is a strong public opinion against him and it is very difficult, even for a media group as powerful as Globo, to sustain a figure like Michel Temer. They had a second possibility for a manager- Rodrigo Maia. I think that for the media groups and judiciary the weaker that the presidency becomes, the better. Because the weaker it is, the easier it is to manipulate and the more it sits in the hands of these power brokers. So Temer is performing the role of manager in the first phase of the coup but nothing has improved. The economy hasn’t improved. It is hard to sustain the idea that he was the solution for the nation’s problems. His image is completely exhausted in all ways imaginable. At the same time, he controls power in Congress. He proved that this political caste that is embedded in Congress still has power. He survived this first set of accusations but there are more on the way. There are two more corruption cases building against him. So I think that this campaign for him to leave over ethical questions related to corruption will continue. It seems to me that he cannot be accepted by the media because if they support him now it will become even more obvious that Dilma Rousseff was not removed from power because of corruption. So it seems like the call, “Out Temer” is nearly unanimous in Brasil outside of the Congress, which is fighting for him to stay in power and protect their political appointments independently of popular disapproval. It is a terrible moment. Michel Temer is presenting what could turn out to be Brasilian parlamentarianism. Brazilian parlamentarianism, which would be a political extreme without the people and without democratic representation, is being tested in Brasil. In fact, we are experiencing parlamentarianism right now, under our unelected leader. And even the media is powerless to remove Michel Temer. So it is a confusing and delicate situation.
In your opinion does the Brasilian hegemonic media support the idea of indirect elections next year as opposed to the direct elections we have had since 1989? Do you think they are preparing the public to accept this idea? If so, how?
I think this is exactly what is happening. The campaign that began in Globo and other big newspapers against Temer was started by the same people who helped remove Dilma Rousseff from power. They made a bet that politics could be conducted indirectly between the Congress, the media and the Judiciary. This arrangement is being tested at the moment in Brasil. It is a new form of Brazilian parlamentarianism which depends on the media and the Judiciary, and without a doubt, they bet everything on the idea that Temer was just an instrument in this transition towards an indirect government. But we are seeing that the political context and the correlation of power between these groups, the media, Judiciary and Congress, is more confusing and fragile than we imagined. So in a certain manner I think that the coup government has been installed in power, but that it has weakened because these groups are fighting among themselves and this is causing the big media groups to flip-flop. Globo turned on Temer but Estado de São Paulo ran a recent editorial supporting him, saying that it is preferable that Temer continues until the end of his mandate next year so that there isn’t any more instability. I don’t see that these power players have distinct positions, but they are all disputing with a weakened presidency that is not hostage to these media conglomerates and a judiciary which tries to manipulate these forces as much as possible. But as you said, they are all betting on an indirectly elected government.
Can you give me an example of how Globo is preparing the public to accept the idea of indirect elections?
The discourse is being transmitted through repetition and they relate it to stability, coming out of the crisis, creating a climate for things to get back to normal. The whole argument is built around the idea of instability and rebuilding the economy. This was also the most common justification that Congressmen used the other day when they voted in favor of Temer. They used the most absurd arguments imaginable to vote in favor of Dilma’s impeachment: for God, for the family, against corruption. This time around, the Congressmen who supported Temer’s continuance in power substituted God and family for economic stability and for the recuperation of the economy. And this is the same argument Globo is using to sustain the current economic strategy, either through Temer’s illegitimate presidency or through indirect elections. ‘Let’s continue banishing one segment of the political caste in the name of the economy’. This argument is being used constantly in a very repetitive form on television at the moment, as if there were only one thing important for Brazil. There could be an impeachment, Temer could be substituted for Rodrigo Maia, the legitimacy of Brazilian democracy is unimportant as long as we save the economy and maintain economic stability. It is a fallacy because the country is in terrible shape with skyrocketing unemployment and economic instability that has caused entire states, like Rio de Janeiro, to declare bankruptcy. So once again a fragile, fallacious argument is being built through fear-mongering to maintain this corrupt group in power.
Lula says that over the past year, Globo TV’s news show, Jornal Nacional, dedicated 16 hours of negative coverage associating him with reforms of a triplex apartment in Guaruja, owned by OAS construction company, that he never set foot in. In an unusual legal arrangment, judge and prosecuter Sergio Moro ruled his own prosecution succesful and condemned Lula to 9.5 years in prison but there is no credible evidence. It is a much weaker case than than, for example, the bank account info, video and audio files that show 2014 presidential candidate and PSDB party chief Aécio Neves receiving of millions of dollars in bribes and threatening to murder a witness. Why did Globo spend so much time talking about allegations against Lula?
It hasn’t abandoned its campaign against PT and Lula. Even though Globo started criticizing Michel Temer due to the corruption scandal it continues with its demolition project against the PT party and Lula in an attempt to ruin his 2018 presidential candidacy. This process has not eased up. We see it daily, fomented on the social media and the Jornal Nacional news program. The fact that Globo opted to talk about Temer and corruption at the current moment is because it feels it is a good time to challenge the PMDB and DEM parties who control Congress. But the persecution of Lula continues very strongly in all of the big media companies in Brazil. The campaign to tire out his image continues. The Brazilian media’s main goal now is the demonization and disqualification of a leftist political group that is connected to the PT and Lula’s leadership.