Folha and the Dictatorship's Remains

Folha has a difficult task of dealing with the dictatorship's rubble

"It was easy to enter the dictatorship, but it was difficult to get rid of it," wrote columnist Elio Gaspari in a Folha article published last week.

A look at Folha's history with the dictatorship that there are more obstacles in this journey.

The third version of Folha's Editorial Handbook - a 1992 text of rules for journalism- features a curious recommendation: do not use the term military dictatorship "to designate the military movement" that occurred in Brazil between 1964 and 1985.

In the manual, the change came only in the following 2001 version. Folha's journalists entered the 21st century, informed that "in news articles, one can use the term military dictatorship to designate the regime that prevailed in Brazil from 1964 to 1985."

It was only in the 2018 version that it was assumed that "the term military dictatorship designates the regime that prevailed in Brazil from 1964 to 1985."
Twenty-six years passed until military dictatorship became the most appropriate to describe the period of military rule.

Given this, it is less surprising the difficulty, shown again in 2009, to call things by name.

Earlier that year, in an editorial that pointed out the excesses of the then Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the newspaper found it opportune to name the Brazilian military period "ditabranda," putting the phenomenon into perspective and proposing a rediscussion on the degree of arbitrary authoritarian periods.

The episodes also alleviated the surprise, already in 2014, of facing the defense, by the newspaper, of the military period's economic results.
In an editorial on the 50 years of the coup, Folha repudiates the military regime but clarifies in a certain excerpt: "This does not mean that all criticisms of the dictatorship are well-founded. Achievements of an economic and structural nature belie the notion of a period of stagnation, or in 20 years, the economy has grown three and a half times, " he said. "Inflation, for the most part, has remained low. All social strata have progressed, albeit unevenly, which accentuated inequity."

Yes, it is possible to tell a fiction saying only truths.
With rare exceptions, the press supported the 1964 civil-military coup. Although during his election campaign President Jair Bolsonaro only pointed his finger at Globo, the fact is that, as a whole, the major media outlets played a role important in political chess that led to the dictatorship.
The support seems contradictory when it is known that censorship of the media is one of the first tasks to which these regimes are dedicated.

In the name of multiple interests, not always converging with those of the population, newspapers have normalized authoritarian turns at least until the new owners of power turn more emphatically against the press itself.

However, compromising arbitrariness and authoritarianism in the name, for example, of economic policies is a serious mistake and costs credibility. Jumping to October 2018, we came across an editorial from the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo ("A tough choice"), in which the "right-wing" Jair Bolsonaro (then in the PSL) and the "left-wing" Fernando Haddad ( PT) were compared to conclude that "it will not be easy for the voter to decide between one and the other."

In September of the same year, Folha stated that Haddad's attitudes and his companions led a large part of the electorate to distrust the "depth of their commitment to the democratic rule of law." This, despite the absence of risks to democracy during more than a decade of PT in power. In Bolsonaro's election, Folha determined internally that the "extreme right" term not be used to refer to him.

Not without difficulties, the newspapers end up portraying poor decisions. In the episode of "ditabranda," Folha said it was wrong, admitting that "the term has a light connotation, which does not lend itself to the seriousness of the matter."
In a recently launched campaign in defense of democracy, the newspaper made a mea-culpa.

It said that the support given to the regime at first was a mistake and changed the tone of the analysis by saying that the campaign also serves to "wake up the nostalgic for a fantasy world, in which there would be no corruption or scandals, public security would be great, and the economy, miraculous ."

The not-so-distant past shows that Folha has also been willing to believe in miracles.
Returning to Gaspari's sentence about the difficulty of getting rid of the dictatorship, I would add: even more complex (and urgent) is to get rid of your leftovers.

Folha established itself as an airy and critical newspaper, made by competent and passionate people, and that is how most of its readers want to see it in the next hundred years. Recognizing your mistakes is part of that.

Flavia Lima
Reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon