The Media and The Military

Newspapers need to clarify the degree of the alignment between the government and the Military

Brazil's military—usually portrayed as the moderate wing in the government or the moderator of everything—has already been portrayed by the press in various ways.

Such approaches often confuse readers who seek to understand better the nature of the interaction between the Armed Forces and the Plateau.

The most repeated story is that the military acts as the rational wing of the government (as opposed to the "ideological"), responsible for containing the president's excesses — as if the military members of the government acted as guardians of governance and common sense.

In just over a year and a half of Jair Bolsonaro in the Presidency, was it the military that changed the relationship with the Executive Branch, or was it the media that took time to capture the spirits of the military?

Not so long ago, articles from Folha and other media "discovered" that military personnel who make up the government support the government. However, the press did not change the approach: unconditional support continued to be presented as conditioned support.

One reader questioned this type of story: "Sorry, but who doesn't know that palace generals endorse the president's attitudes?"

Avid for answers, the reader suggested that Folha map the alignment of the Army's active generals to Bolsonaro and his relationship with the top of the other Armed Forces.

"Depending on the conclusion, citizens concerned with democracy may or may not be relieved," he said.

The press has yet to fully decipher the degree of this alignment, although efforts have been made.

In the Executive, the military is today the main political actor. Under Bolsonaro, Folha shows, there are more than 2,500 military personnel active in the government — a 33% increase over the previous administration.

Also, 10 of the 23 government ministers came from the barracks (including the interim Minister of Health, whose work has been chaotic), not to mention the president and vice president.

In general, journalism seems unprepared for this coverage, and historical reasons may explain this.

In the post-dictatorship, the generation that entered journalism left censorship behind and had the fundamental task of getting to know Congress and the intricacies of governance and multiparty politics.

In the 2000s, given the excessive judicialization of politics, news coverage began to require that reporters who covered politics also dominate the rites and language of the Judiciary.

Not so long ago, the journalists who maintained contact with members of the Armed Forces were a small group that covered the military industry or the environment, given the military's presence in the Amazon and their involvement in the nuclear issue.

Even in these cases, defense ministers acted as the main interlocutors.

It is with the arrival of Bolsonaro to power that the politics reporters need to worry about having some intimacy with the military. This group historically refrains from communicating with society.

The Forces do not like to make statements to the press, even if they remain anonymous (the so-called "off-the-record"), and have started to dictate what they think is reasonable to discuss, making it difficult and delicate to cover government actions.

In an article for the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, the vice president, General Hamilton Mourão, joked with the ombudsman when he stated that the press needed to review procedures amid the pandemic and that opposing and favorable opinions to the government should have the same space in newspapers, without which "we will have discredit and reaction".

Outside of politics for more than 30 years, the military does not understand that the journalistic job is to confront power and that the focus turned to them when they decided to occupy a space that is not that of the institution.

Having so many military personnel in the Plateau and in so many positions in the Executive that are there just because they are military is not normal in a mature democracy. Waiting for the group to recognize that the policy is a place for contestation may be too much.

However, newspapers need to do their part, training reporters who know the history of the Armed Forces and their codes and who view the military not as disinterested interlocutors, but as a political force that now occupies the top echelon of the government.

The newspapers have struggled to capture something new: the spirit of a civil-military government. It is necessary to invest in coverage, offering the reader pictures as close as possible to the reality of the military's return to power.

I hope that this need, especially for political coverage, will be brief.

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