Is Folha Persecuting Bolsonaro?

The role of journalism is not to pick on the powerful nor to fraternize with them

 On a Friday, March 1990, the Federal Police stormed the Folha de S.Paulo building under the pretext of seeking irregularities in the company. It was the beginning of Fernando Collor de Mello's government.
The newspaper responded with a harsh editorial in which it called the invaders "killers of judicial order."

In his column, Folha's ombudsman at the time, Caio Túlio Costa, said: "It was a newspaper that maintained complete independence from the Collor candidacy. It was the first newspaper to be 'visited' by the police. No need to say anything else."

Almost 30 years later, Folha finds itself in this same position, but this time under the government of Jair Bolsonaro.

Delivering on its promise, the president announced that it would cancel all Folha government subscriptions. Folha is not among the newspapers included in a federal newspaper contract. 

The president also said he would boycott products that advertised in the newspaper and recommended that the population do the same.

The government's decision is not explained by its ideological stance. The open contract for federal newspaper subscriptions includes, for example, The New York Times, the No. 1 enemy of Bolsonaro's idol, President Donald Trump.

The public notice shows that the government seeks to maintain institutional access to national and international press vehicles, probably to keep itself informed about facts in general and about the repercussions of its actions.

If this is the purpose, experts say, there is no legal sense in the exclusion of a vehicle (Folha) that is among the leading in the country, and the act can configure "misuse of power". On Saturday (30), the notice did not appear in the Official Gazette.

Why is this happening to Folha?

Some readers say the newspaper chases after Bolsonaro, echoing the president's phrase: "I want to ask Folha to portray all the evils and slanders it has done to me."

Bolsonaro confuses "evils and slander" with journalism, whose purpose is not to pursue power, nor to work with it.

In January 2018, Folha reported that Bolsonaro used House money to employ in his office a person who provided services in his summer house and had a small business in Angra Dos Reis (RJ): "Wal Acai."

The president said the woman was on vacation, but Folha found Wal in the same situation: selling acai.
During the presidential campaign, one story said that business supporters of then-candidate Bolsonaro funded mass messaging blasts against petista Fernando Haddad, which is a campaign finance crime.

Days later, UOL showed that the PT also used the mass messaging system, a tool prohibited by the electoral law. The TSE fined Haddad.

And Bolsonaro? Folha reporters made themselves available to the court to report what they found, but the request to testify in the process was rejected.
Just over a month ago, WhatsApp itself admitted that the 2018 election used massive messaging with contracted enterprise systems.

Folha also revealed PSL's phantom candidate election scheme and has published a series of reports based on the messages obtained by The Intercept, which raised doubts about the impartiality of then-judge and now Bolsonaro minister Sergio Moro.

Readers question whether Folha is leftist, which, in effect, would make it want to target the current government.

But two examples show otherwise. The PT monthly payout scheme and the case of the Atibaia country house frequented by Lula were revelations reported Folha. In an editorial, the newspaper said Dilma Rousseff was unable to govern the country.

In addition, those who follow the latest editorials know that Folha has supported the economic reforms proposed by the Bolsonaro administration — just as it approved of President Collor's "boldness in launching new economic measures" back in the day.

Folha has often defended the urgency of the measures.
The federal newspaper contract includes 24 newspapers and is estimated at R$ 131,000, which is little in financial terms. But the discussion is not about money.
Bolsonaro's unprecedented attitude strengthens ties with his supporters, but this is not the job he holds.

These are attitudes that equate journalism to the noise of social networks and seek to undermine one of the points that differentiate the professional press from other media: credibility.

On the part of the press, newspapers have normalized the behavior of Bolsonaro and his team in the name of economic recovery.
The attacks on judicial order reveal, however, that no economic policy can justify complacency with arbitrariness and authoritarianism.

This time, this is not an invasion. They are small or large persecutions that hide a movement aiming to discredit institutions.

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