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The Disenchanted Souls in the Streets

11/27/2017 - 12h11

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PAULA CESARINO COSTA

A year after the Olympics, the State of Rio de Janeiro has broken a lamentable record. Champions of backroom dealing, the majority of the members of the top tier of the Executive and Legislative branches of government in the Fluminense state from the last 20 years are currently incarcerated, under investigation on various charges of diverting public funds.

The line-up is impressive. Former governors Anthony Garotinho (1999-2002), Rosinha Garotinho (2003-2007) and Sérgio Cabral(2007-2014) are imprisoned. This dragnet also managed to put former first-lady Adriana Ancelmo behind bars. Former presidents of the Legislative Assembly Jorge Picciani and Paulo Melo add even more weight to the nefarious escalation of detainees that shared the exercise of power in the state.

As if that weren't enough, powerful former secretaries of State and the businessmen that they were involved with in their crimes with are also being held.

What remains of the group is with governor Luiz Fernando Pezão who had his term revoked by the Regional Electoral Tribunal but has managed to stay in power by appealing his sentence to a higher court.

There is no parameter in the history of recent Brazilian politics of a scandal of this dimension in state governments. In addition to the political scenario, the crisis is also financial.

Rio, the second largest state economy in the country, declared a state of public calamity in 2016, hasn't paid suppliers, is behind in salaries (public servants still haven't received their year-end 13th salaries, has laid waste to hospitals, and has dismantled public safety and security policy.

The situation started deteriorating immediately after the Olympic Games. At the same time, coincidentally, Folha emptied out it journalistic ranks in Rio.

Since then, it has been ceding the advantage in major coverage involving the State: operations resulting from the s0-called Car Wash investigation, widespread annihilation of political leadership, disputes among criminal factions, dismantling of public safety and security policy, which until recently had been handled successfully, and the bankruptcy of the education and health systems.

Although it has managed to pull together some good reporting in 2017, Folha hasn't risen to the challenge merited by the seriousness of any of the themes it has covered.

Many readers have gotten the impression that with the Olympics ending, the newspaper found no reason to maintain Rio as a journalistic priority. A similar reaction can be seen in what has been done by international media organizations. Many of them have downsized or eliminated their structures in the city.

If the decisions made by foreign organizations are understandable, one has to question the change in priority by Folha. The clear result is that the newspaper has lost variety, depth and agility in news coverage. This week it was the last of the major newspapers to publish the arrest of Anthony and Rosinha Garotinho.

Copywriting editor Roberto Dias said that there was a specific failure in the case cited and that the newspaper "is more agile in Rio than [ever] before".

It isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened. During Operation Unfair Play, which looked into the purchasing of votes during the 2016-Rio election, the newspaper was slow to get involved in the case and then to exhibit editorial forcefulness. And a vigorous investigation by the newspaper was to be expected regarding the case of Carlos Arthur Nuzman who ran Brazilian sports for decades and ended up being arrested.

Even in the day-by-day developments in the Car Wash operations in Rio Folha has been at a disadvantage compared to its competitors, and managed to provide coverage with major gaps, like the story that reported, erroneously, that the most valuable gem stones in the alleged Cabral-Ancelmo money laundering scheme had been apprehended.

Roberto Dias points out that Folha has conducted Datafolha polling and research in Rio like none ever done before and that this has been picked up in coverage from the competition.

There has been a noticeable attempted by the newspaper to invest in differentiated reporting like the series of chronicles on Car Wash, with the aim of giving the reader something more than the television and internet news sites.
But more should be expected from the largest newspaper in the country with the widest national influence.

In my opinion, Folha needs to recalibrate its tools to adequately deal with the dimension of the tragedy in the Fluminense.

Rio is the echo chamber for a profound national crisis. The city where João do Rio (pseudonym of the Brazilian journalist, short-story writer and playwright João Paulo Emílio Cristóvão dos Santos Coelho Barreto) chased enchanted souls in the streets has turned into a political and administrative zombie.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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