A New Social Media Government Is A Challenge For Newspapers

The press needs to learn how to cover a government that uses social media as Bolsonaro does

Paula Cesarino Costa
São Paulo

This is going to be on of the quietest transitions of government in the history of the Brazilian Republic, to the point that it can almost be said that the Jair Bolsonaro administration has already begun and the Temer administration is over.

Official announcements, statements or even opinions of the president-elect already had tangible effects on our daily lives. The most recent example was Cuba's withdrawal from the Mais Médicos program, leading to thousands of Cuban physicians leaving their posts public clinics throughout the country.  The Cuban exit was a direct result of Bolsonaro questioning the qualifications of Cuban doctors and his intention of requiring them to validate their medical diplomas in Brazil.  

Earlier, his stated intention to change the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem had already caused an official trip of Brazilian diplomats and businessmen to Egypt. It also caused concern among Brazilian exporters, who have in the Arab world one of their biggest buyer.

An outsider from central power axis in Brazilian politics for over 30 years, Bolsonaro and his new political party are transforming official communications, by hevaily relying on informality, breaches of protocols and improvisations. Something said today may be untrue tomorrow. Whoever announced it first is left to explain themselves -- and that includes the media.

Another feature of Bolsonaro's government style is to delegate official announcements to surrogates, allowing each one to speak when and how they see fit -- taking the risk, as it happens, of being disavowed if said announcement is not well received by the public.

From communication standpoint,  rely primarily on direct communication with the base via social media, is a consistent strategy with the rest of Bolsonaro's campaign so far.

Last week alone, the president-elect announced via Twitter his nominations for Attorney General, Comptroller General and the Ministries of Health and Education. In the latter cases, the public comings and goings of names demonstrated that strong veto power from the Evangelical caucus. 

In tweets, Bolsonaro criticized Mais Médicos, retracted announcements from his minister of Economy,  and retweeted positive news about the country and sarcastic tweets from his son Carlos, said to be his father's mentor in social media.

Amidst this massive amount of information and counter-information produced daily, newspapers have complex, risky and challenging work. If the president-elect has already released the main news via the internet for anyone who wants to see, listen and review, what's left for the press? Surely you can not limit yourself to being a reproducer of these presidential messages.

This new communication style demands from the press a new way of thinking about politics and producing information. The old idea that facts are the primary products and news as a processed product with the acquisition of added value (in the form of contex) has never been so precise.

The reporters must invest their time in investigating resumes and careers, as well as the impacts of Cabinet staff choices and the darker aspects of power disputes, always showing what are their concrete consequences in readers' lives. 

Folha has been successful in investigating future ministers and in cases such as the discovery of secretive negotiations between the Rousseff administration and Cuba to avoid public resistance to the Mais Médicos program.

A more critical approach to covering Bolsonaro, of course, bothers and closes doors of access to power. At first glance, it may seem counterproductive to the newspaper and its journalists. In the long run, however, it is what values the coverage and attests to the need of the press for its independence and vigilance.

Displeasing the reader to a certain extent may be necessary, provided that in grander scheme of things, the newspaper shows having anticipated the most accurate and impartially discussed its consequences.

Governance in the digital age (and the peculiar style of the new masters of power) is yet another facet of forcing newspapers and journalists to be in a permanent mode of renewal, innovation, and reinvention.

Translated by NATASHA MADOV

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