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The Press got Run Over

05/28/2018 - 12h48

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PAULA CESARINO COSTA

The week came to a close with more than 500 highway blockages throughout the country. Gas stations closed, busses stopped circulating, planes stopped flying, hospitals interrupted ambulance services and police cars were rationed. Distribution of newspapers and magazines was affected.

This was the scenario provoked by truck drivers and/or transportation companies who decided to carry out an immobilization operation to force a reduction in the price of diesel. Diesel prices had increased 12,3% at the beginning of May and are at their highest levels in history.

The manifestation and operation surprised the majority of Brazilians. Since the beginning of the month, however, the government had been receiving warnings from entities related to truck drivers that there were signals of impending stoppages.

On the 7th of May, the Truck Drivers' Blog (Blog dos Caminhoneiros) informed that protests against successive increases in the price of diesel had begun in Barra Mansa (State of RJ) on the Dutra expressway and said that they would be intensifying. It revealed that the mobilization was being organized through social media sites.

On the 14th, the Brazilian Truck Drivers Association (Abcam) filed an official communique with the Office of the Presidency of the Republic with a demand for a reduction of fuel taxes with a date limit set for the 20th. On the 18th, the Confederation of Autonomous Transporters (CNTA) released a communique in which it mentioned the possibility of an immobilization starting on Monday, the 21st, which in fact did occur.

Newspapers either didn't know about the warnings or didn't give them any importance. The government was slow to react. Blockages on many of the country's highways, including important routes located near to Folha readers like Anhanguera and Anchieta/Imigrantes were mentioned and listed discretely on the site but ignored in the print edition. As of Tuesday, the 22nd, no one was even imagining the dimension that the mobilization could take on.

The truck driver labor category includes around 600 thousand unionized professionals. In all, there are about 1 million independent truck drivers.

By the time that dozens of highways had already been blocked it had become clear that the press in general, not only Folha, was unprepared to explain the origins or provide coverage of the personalities and the unfolding of the mobilization.

Nobody knew what to say. No one knew how to explain how it had gotten organized so broadly. Voices and faces of those leading the mobilization were rare. Or were there no leaders at all? Was it just a mobilization of independent drivers? Were business leaders behind it? Newspapers were slow to start their understanding of it. And to start explaining it to their readers.

Thursday's (the 24th) edition of Folha mentioned the CNTA when dimensioning the strike's reach. Reporting and analysis was based only on the official side and sources: the Government, Congress and Petrobras. This demonstrated once again the *Folha*'s slavish attention to and reliance on official power and its distance and lack of information from other organized sectors in society. Not one reporter was able to come up with a source among leaders of the transportation community.

It wasn't a simple task. It is a highly fragmented category, without a common leadership, with competing unions, and many independent drivers mixed together with big organized transportation companies.

Folha took a long time in managing to give its readers a minimum level of information regarding the protagonists of the activities that have brought Brazil to a standstill. At the end of the night on the 24th, it posted on its site an interesting report about a truck driver who had created three WhatsApp groups, through which he had been calling on supporters for such activities. The article wasn't published in the print edition.

The Editor of the Markets Section, Alexa Salomão, was transparent in explaining that she had three reporters dedicated to investigating the story but that as of Friday night, the story wasn't ready for publishing.

"Since this mobilization is paralyzing the country and there is evidence of lockouts taking place, it would be frivolous to attribute its leadership to this or that entity or company without having more details", she declared.

The incapacity of newspapers to identify, measure and explain how the country reached this crisis affecting everyone's routine is worrisome. It is a critical opportunity for the Folha to demonstrate its relevance, but the newspaper showed itself to be unprepared, unguided and precarious in its analysis.

In addition to the actions themselves, the entire legal and political question of the government's reaction in announcing the use of the Armed Forces against protesters and reckless actions like the requisitioning of private assets, was at the least confused and barely questioned or analyzed.

The newspapers got run over by the truckers' and transportation companies' strike.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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