Journalism Under Attack

Understanding the path followed by the press so far may help it to get out of this

In the last few days, the effort to erode trust in the press and increase doubts about the integrity of what is published has gained new momentum.

After a Sunday with lots of sun and heat, the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo featured on its Monday (31) front-page a photo of the crowded Ipanema beach in Rio. It didn't take long for social media users to say the image was fake, published for the purpose of manipulation.
The reasons for this alleged manipulation were not clear.

If according to the deniers, Covid-19 is something similar to the flu, then a beach full of people shows that many people are deniers.

So, what would explain the attack on the newspaper, if not a genuine desire to, no matter the subject or scenario, undermine the credibility of the press?
Fact-checkers mobilized to check the date the photo was taken and confirmed that it was taken on Sunday. But it is unlikely that the same group of people who read the original messages had access to the denial. Furthermore, how many of these people actually care about this denial?

On the same Monday, a TV Globo article showed that the City of Rio de Janeiro had mobilized a network of employees to work shifts in front of municipal hospitals. Those employees intimidated users of the health system, prevented people from talking about their plight using the service and made the work of the press unfeasible.

Three groups organized the employees through WhatsApp groups, one of which was named "Guardians of the Crivella," in reference to the mayor, Marcelo Crivella.

The TV Globo images are embarrassing. In one, a "guardian" tries to intimidate a man who has lost a finger. In another, two of them shouted during the interview of a woman who wanted to transfer her cancer-ridden mother to another hospital.

It is not surprising that the city said that the groups served to "better inform the population." It has become commonplace to use just the opposite as an excuse for outrageous behavior or decision.

In the episode, the social media strategies of shouting and denial seeped into real life to silence critics and discredit traditional media.

Fortunately, the answer came in the form of good journalism, with a well-rounded TV reporting that showed images of the mayor's "guardians" in action. Live TV interruptions are not new on television, but those made at the behest of governments and paid for with public money are unprecedented.

On Friday (4), a court forbade Globo from publishing confidential documents of the investigation in which Senator Flávio Bolsonaro (Republicanos-RJ) is suspected of leading a salary kickback scheme in his former cabinet in the Rio Legislative Assembly. If there is a public interest, the publication of these documents, even if subject to criticism, is the work of the press.

The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) recently referred to another case of censorship. In another court order, the blog of journalist Luis Nassif was ordered to remove 11 news involving BTG Pactual. Abraji said, "seeking legal redress is the right of companies and citizens, but censoring journalistic content hurts freedom of expression."

There is something very wrong when disseminating a crowded beach image, monitoring municipal health services, or the population's right to know details of a diversion scheme of public resources are attacked with the same intensity, even with different instruments.

In the name of abolishing the charges made in the name of the public interest, is it worth threatening to shut up, demand the publication of positive news, go into an intimidating melee or resort to censorship?

There is a general climate of intimidation of the press, which grows, diversifies — and is not restricted to Brazil.
This week in London, the WikiLeaks journalist Julian Assange's request for extradition to the US begins. He is a man who exposed secret US documents that revealed human rights abuses and violations. The United States wants to try him based on the Espionage Law.

According to analysts, there is a real danger that the right to receive leaked documents and to publish them, always in the name of the public interest, will suffer a severe blow.

Criminalizing, silencing, or undermining the press's credibility seems to be the order of the day. It is certainly not the first time this has happened. Understanding the path taken by journalism itself so far may help you to get out of this.

Flavia Lima

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