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An Eye on Congress and on the Vote

12/18/2017 - 13h21



A protagonist throughout 2017, the National Congress is going through its biggest institutional crisis ever.

The Federal Supreme Court is investigating 40% of the members of the Senate and the lower house of congress for charges of various crimes. Many have been arrested, some removed from office for corruption. Legislative offices have been the target of police operations. Accusations of blackmail and spurious dealings involving legislative bills and provisory legislation have caught up with dozens of parliamentarians.

In the middle of this scenario, congress has twice refused to initiate investigations against the Brazilian President, who is entangled in accusations and charges of corrupt practices by people who have been shut out of his inner circle.

In both chambers, only the polemic Labor Reform legislation has been concluded. And readers have been surprised by the absurd interpretations being drawn and implemented from the approved text.

The crucial political and pension reform bills are both walking-dead and threaten the future. They have fallen into the Greek calendar zone, that neverland time-period in the calendar, where projects that could improve or worsen the life of Brazilian citizens go and the majority of them only emerge and come back to readers' knowledge in their final phase of approval.

This is the situation that many relevant discussions are in, like the creation of laws that provide for effective public safety and security, putting a brake on the super salaries of public servants, revision of the federative pact and the threat of regression on rules regarding so-called legal abortions - only to cite a few examples.

In view of this, it is no surprise that Congress is closing the year with its highest level of rejection in recent history. A Datafolha survey carried out in November shows that 60% of Brazilians consider the performance of the current 513 congressman and 81 senators to be bad or terrible. Only 5% of the population gives them a positive rating.

Folha's coverage of so many of the news stories relating to Congress has been poor and sporadic. In fact, though, the coverage of the voting on requests for the President's removal was exemplary, both serving as examples of competently covered priorities, with trends being anticipated and reporting on the very unconventional actions undertaken to garner support.

However, in the midst of this political turbulence, the day-to-day of both legislative chambers was often ignored and neglected. The wide range of subjects with direct consequences for readers' lives ended up being covered in a precarious, and limited fashion without any depth or anything standing out.

Detailed information and knowledge of the actions of each congressman and senator is what readers need to decide their votes. For many years, Folha kept an exhaustive register that recorded the voting and activities of each senator and congressman. Referred to as the "Eye on Congress" it sought to provide both an individual and general evaluation, listing the position of each member on the most important voting issues. It recorded their number of absences during the development of projects and revealed the spending of each member during his term, among other things.

Its purpose was to offer an objective basis for monitoring the work of each parliamentarian. This kind of initiative, with the tools which are available today to journalists and the data available from the infinite space of digital publications appears to me to be a first-line service that could help readers make accurate evaluations of their representatives.

Next to providing more critical and constant coverage of the new and emerging ways of carrying out politics in governmental management, this is a crucial task for Folha in the electoral year of 2018


Last week, President Michel Temer made a potentially uncomfortable argument to show support for voting for pension reform bill sooner rather than later, "All of the Brazilian Press, without exception, is supporting it through editorials and reporting. So, the time is now", he declared.

One of the criticisms that Folha has received from readers is that the reporting from the newspaper has been biased in favor of the government's official position and has given limited space to dissenting proposals.

Managing editor Vinicius Mota responded that "Folha's editorials have been supportive of pension reform bill, but news reporters have keep their distance from taking positions in the dispute, obeying a commandment from the Newsroom Manual. It should be noted, however, that the divergence is this case is based in the proposals for combating the growing weight of social security outlays in the federal budget. There is little technical disagreement regarding the existence of a problem, because this deals basically with a question of mathematics."

The putting off of the vote to 2018 postpones Folha's challenge of finding a balance in news coverage between the arguments of those who are in favor and those who have been opposed to it based upon the way it has been presented until now.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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