About Harassed Lions

The press must do its job without being intimidated by threats

The last week of October was busy. It began with a video posted on President Jair Bolsonaro’s social media account in which he compared himself to a lion threatened by hyenas, represented by institutions such as the Federal Supreme Court, political parties, and the press.

On Tuesday (29), a report from Jornal Nacional confirmed what appeared to be a premonition.

The news linked Bolsonaro to those charged with the murder of Councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes.

According to a report from TV Globo, the doorman of the Bolsonaro family condominium told police that one of those accused of killing the councilwoman hours before the crime had asked for permission to enter, stating that he was going to Bolsonaro's house. He also said that the voice of the caller who granted authorization was very similar to the president's voice.

On Wednesday, however, the prosecution said that the doorman had lied.

Was there an error in breaking the news?

TV Globo could have waited a little longer to publicize the case. Or it could have gone after the audio or video of the condo concierge.

But the station had information that the doorman had given two identical statements to the police, as well as a condominium control worksheet that showed the search for the president's family home.

It should be noted that JN also gave space to the contradictory by stressing that, on March 14, 2018, the president was not in Rio, but in Brasilia. Therefore, he could not have answered that call.

Therefore, it is difficult to say that the station acted out of journalistic standards.

In the case of Folha, the newspaper published a headline with Globo's findings and was right to promote another, the next day, with the information that the mention of Bolsonaro was false.

Still, the case has had bad consequences for the already shaken credibility of the press — something the president himself seems to count on.

Charges of bias in government coverage were renewed. Even above his standards, Bolsonaro called TV Globo's coverage of his term "rogue,"  threatened not to renew the broadcaster's concession, and called the press "nuts."

At the end of the week, he turned against Folha. In an interview with Bandeirantes, he said that he ordered the cancellation of newspaper subscriptions held by the federal government, leaving a veiled threat to the companies that advertise in Folha.

But Bolsonaro was not the first president to do this.

Two weeks ago, US President Donald Trump told Fox News that he would cancel subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Folha has not revealed the impact of this on revenue. The column found out that on Friday (1st), the marketing and circulation areas were trying to evaluate the potential impact.

What is really frightening is that the president continues to intimidate the press, and the media reports what he says without much reaction.

Globo issued a statement saying it regretted that the president reveals his ignorance in the mission of quality journalism and uses unfair terms to insult those who inform the public.

Folha reiterated that it regrets yet another discriminatory act of the president against the newspaper and said it would continue to produce critical and nonpartisan journalism.

In this imbroglio, some media companies are safe. With regard to others, how much does the government have to attack them for them to publish a front-page editorial condemning the attacks or in order to, at the same time, demand a more respectful attitude?

The press seems to have normalized the behavior of Bolsonaro and his ministers - who seem to be eternally campaigning.

But one must realize that there is no promise of liberal economics to compensate for democratic setbacks.
As I have said a few times, the job of the press is to question, and the government's job is to be accountable to society.

Like it or not, the press must continue to check the numerous holes in cases such as the murder of the city councilwoman.

According to the findings, prosecutors, the judiciary, the Rio government, and the president himself had known about the doorman's testimony for some time.

The curious thing is that nobody knows who he is yet, why he said what he said, why the document corroborates the testimony, or why he would have lied.

Nowadays, institutions seem to alternate in the role of the harassed lion - which is not good.

The press must manage a delicate balance: do its job, which is to question and take care of the journalistic investigation, without, of course, being intimidated.

Flavia lima

A reporter specializing in economics, she holds a degree in social science from USP and a law degree from Mackenzie. She has been an ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon