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Resolutions for the New Plea

12/26/2017 - 12h37

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PAULA CESARINO COSTA

The unpredictability and enormous expectations regarding what is coming make the 2018 elections seem like those of 1989, the first presidential election after the military dictatorship period.

There are, however, more differences than similarities. Next year's race has new characteristics. The candidates are barred from receiving private donations and a public fund will provide for electoral spending. The internet and social networks will have a preponderant role in discussions, reactions and the implementation of the public agenda.

In previous columns, I grappled with voter concerns regarding editorial balance in coverage of the pre-candidates, a demand that will only become more pronounced in the next few months. I dealt with the challenge of confronting virtual robots and specialized structures designed to influence voters on the internet and the need for profound investigations of such processes. I highlighted the danger of false equivalency, treating facts with different levels of relevance and impact as equal.

In the spirit of the season, with best wishes and in light of reviewing priorities for the coming year, I'm going to risk suggesting several points for reflection by journalists related to coverage of the upcoming election:

1) To the contrary of what common sense would suggest, the protagonists in the election aren't the political candidates, but the very voters themselves. It is critical to have mechanisms (polls, research panels, electronic channels) to measure and recall the issues that are of concern and what the esteemed voters want. We must engage them in the relevant issues and in pressuring the candidates to tell us what to expect;

2) with the country still under effect of the so-called Car Wash operation, each candidate's scorecard is one of the items that interest reader/voters the most;

3) journalists need to become fully acquainted with the new electoral law, study it's effects and achievements, establish contrasts and point out any deviations. Electoral crimes - from illegal campaigns to vote-buying - are common and many go by unnoticed and unpunished. The newspaper needs to pay rigorous attention to any;

4) the old political maxim of following the money trail is critical. Since the candidates now have a public fund for campaign financing, any funds from any other source will be illegal. Who will be paying the costs for transportation and travel? In what way? Are marketing cost structures really what they are being reported to be? Are militant supporters being compensated? Will public institutions be diverting resources from their internal structures and influencing the political process?

All of these questions demand that the newsroom prepare itself to keep the proper focus;

5) the verification of facts, declarations and promises cannot be left up to other groups, agencies or specialized firms. It should guide all of the coverage by reporters and editors. This is the essence of modern journalism.

6) public-opinion polls are an essential element of campaign coverage and a traditional strength of Folha. Their interpretation demands technical expertise and qualification.

The exploration and analysis of sectorial data can help to anticipate trends. However, one must bear in mind that all readings are momentary, subject to change and shouldn't cast or mask further coverage, limiting it to one or two candidates.

7) the media plays a critical role in the country's electoral process. Balance, impartiality and objectivity can be put at risk by prosaic decisions made by reporters and editors. Guard against these risks should be doubled.

In this regard, Folha's readers are always watching closely. Each one with their own convictions sees the newspaper in a different way: "I am disgusted and indignant every day I read Folha and see how it blatantly supports Lula, who has already been condemned. Every day giving favorable coverage to this corrupt guy", wrote Francisco Carlos Henriques.

"The headline story this Sunday (the 10th) - Geraldo Alckmin named PSDB party candidate and praises President Temer's agenda - represents the newspaper going from sympathetic militancy to explicit support for the PSDB candidate for the Presidency", declared João de Deus Souza Silva.

Maria de Lourdes Pereira complained: "Folha seems to be affirming the meaning of its name, "leaf" as in banana tree, one that says one thing on the one hand and another thing on the other. It should take one side or the other".

Reader Dagmar Zibas summed things up: "It's going to take a lot of work to try to provide unbiased coverage".

Leaving passions aside, a well-planned, balanced, intelligent and creative effort will be recognized and valued by reader/voters. They need sufficient and accurate information about candidates, political parties and the electoral process to make responsible choices at the polls.

This is how newspapers can serve as effective tools for voters in the construction of the country that will emerge from the polling stations, and once again be an essential element in the lives of their readers.

*

This is the last column for the year. I want to thank you, readers, for your companionship and partnership. After the holidays I will be on vacation. Happy New Year to all of you.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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