The early Bolsonaro administration shows that a complicated relationship with the press lays ahead

São Paulo

The first 40 days of 2019 has already started to show how the news media's relationship with the Bolsonaro administration is going to be, and the forecast is not good. Usually, a presidency this young is filled with hopeful plans, commendable intentions, and people still not used to deal with the media.

Since the inauguration, many readers sent me messages complaining about an alleged pessimism and ill will from Folha towards the new president. "Have you been able to read one single positive news about our democratically elected president in the last three months?", asked one reader.

 "Folha is taking pains to annoy its readers. The amount of negative news about the Bolsonaro administration clearly shows how the newspaper opted to be actively against the current government. I didn't vote for Bolsonaro as I would never vote for Haddad, but I think Folha is going too far in its efforts to trash the federal government," wrote another.

Part of this reaction derives from the partisan feelings that elections can provoke, in which passion wins over reason. But it also comes from mistakes or inaccuracies that sometimes occur during reporting and how the Bolsonaro family and supporters use social media.  

Both the president and his sons never shy away from criticizing the Brazilian news media in their social media posts to thousands of followers. Bolsonaro publicly disavows information reporters on backgrounds, denies public statements made by his team, cleared off, provokes the press, mocks news stories and shares articles containing with falsehoods. His children do the same.

Folha's executive editor Sérgio Dávila stresses that Folha does not oppose the Bolsonaro administration, as it never did with any president before him.

Scrutinizing previous and current acts and ideas from the president and his senior cabinet is the obligation of reporters and news outlets.  

What is new in the current scenario is the shift from where the conflict between the press and government usually happens. It is no longer on newspapers pages or broadcast news. The Bolsonaros moved the battle to social media's muddy waters.

As much as I disagree with the distortions and attacks devoid of factual truth that come from the Bolsonaro camp, I think that keeping the press on its toes is a good consequence of these new times. It makes the journalist's work more difficult because it's not easy to be in the constant public eye and get used to the criticism.

It requires increased attention. Each misrepresented, wrong, or disproved information that goes on to be published undermines the new media's credibility and gives ammunition to those who seek to discredit our work.

There are other issues, like how to report on the presidential tweets. It doesn't make sense to plainly reproduce them since their content reached the reporter and the reader at the same time. It's necessary to contextualize and verify each one of them, instead merely reporting them.

The Bolsonaros often criticize the press more for its qualities than for its defects. They often sum up their complaints to the scathing hashtag "fake news," instead of seeking transparency as a method and clarity as a rule.

To investigate past relationships, verify plans and statements, probe financial assets and shady professional associations are all praiseworthy efforts. But to keep rooting - either in favor or against - is an easy trap to fall for. Readers' time and money should not be wasted. The game has just started.

Translated by NATASHA MADOV

Read the article in the original language