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Historical Distancing

04/09/2018 - 12h33



"I almost fell out of bed", is what a reader wrote to me commenting on a headline from Folha that she had just read on Twitter in the wee hours of the morning: "Protests lead military leadership to consider declaring a state of siege". The post which was published on the network at 1:43 AM on Tuesday, was actually referring to events that took place on the 3rd of April 1968. It was from the "50 Years Ago Today" section, which the Folha publishes daily. The tweet from the newspaper, however, had no information or explanation identifying this critical time frame.

To make matters worse, at 4:39 PM on the same day (the 3rd), army commander Eduardo Villas Bôas wrote on the same social network that the military shared "the anxiety of all good citizens and repudiates impunity and respects the Constitution, social peace and Democracy, and is well aware of its institutional missions".

During these times of conflict that the country is going through, one can't be too careful: "The material appeared to be current and speaking about real events happening now, especially considering the recent context of military intervention in Rio, protests for and against former president Lula's arrest and uncertainties regarding the elections this year". The reader categorized the newspaper's behavior as "imprudent". "Anything on social networks, today, is given to be true, even when people don't actually read it through. News that fits into the context that we are living in goes viral and has a greater power for convincing people. Republishing material from 50 years ago, without explicitly making clear what it is referring to, is a tremendous act of imprudence. Folha spread fake news and disinformation."

Other readers voiced their indignation: "bordering on irresponsibility", "headline that induces erroneous understanding", "miscreant", "click-bait for the unsuspecting", and so on

The Folha's social media editor, Ygor Salles, admitted that readers were right in their complaints and that the title didn't make it clear that the material was dealing with historic events. He explained that "the effect is even greater on Twitter, where there are no graphic elements to illustrate the difference".

In addition to promptly admitting its mistake, the newspaper decided to change the procedure it has had in place until now. All articles and material from the *Folha*'s database, will from now on have the year that they are referring to included in their title. Salles was clear in emphasizing that the mistake was a procedural one. "This had nothing to do with any political agenda".


Journalism has a fundamental role in the construction of history and social memory. Without the immediate records of journalism, the work of historians would be imprecise and more difficult. The recording of daily life registered by the press is an essential element in the critical review of events.

The country has been prodigal in political events that deserve to be referred to as historical. Sometimes, the repetition of facts that would be considered to be spectacular separately causes a kind of saturation in readers. Sometimes, they also have anesthetic effects on journalistic procedures.

This is not the first time that I have called attention here to the Folha's failings in minimizing the historical nature of facts or in not offering elements of this historical dimension in its editing.

This is what happened in Friday's (the 6th) edition, the day after former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's arrest had been ordered. Folha got it right by offering the reader a look into the future - publishing analytical material about electoral prospects for this year. It failed, however, in the historical aspect, by not bringing obligatory information regarding contextualization. The newspaper missed the opportunity to dive into the details that led to the unprecedented political crisis caused by the imminent arrest of a former president of the Republic who was convicted of corruption and money laundering.

It missed the boat: It didn't provide a review of Lula's political trajectory nor summarize his journey along the pathway that eventually condemned him to prison. It didn't recount the cases of other presidents who were imprisoned for different reasons than this one.

Looking at the past has a lot to do with understand the present as well as providing a dimension to the news, projecting its significance into the future.

Investigative journalism isn't only about accusations and scandals. It is related to interpretative and analytical journalism. When seeking the origin and cause behind the facts, light is shone on the past, providing a basis for understanding the present and pointing out relevant themes for the future. Carrying out this work and providing this clarification is a noble task, way above the capacity of internet searchers and their algorithms.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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