Two Scandals and One Mistake

Journalists shouldnt be tempted by superficiality

Two issues and an error caused a commotion that set the tone for Folha's coverage this week.
The first of them was the habeas corpus granted by the STF minister Marco Aurélio Mello to the leader of a criminal faction André Oliveira de Macedo, also known as André do Rap.

After some delay in capturing the story's appeal, Folha decided to give more prominence to the case beyond an article on its website. Folha sought to explain the circumstances of the release, carried out almost automatically, of a man convicted in two instances, based on a recent article that says preventive arrests must be reviewed every 90 days, under penalty of making the prison illegal.

In a case like this that, understandably, attracts all attention, it is important to have a more general sense of the picture — something not always offered by the press.
In this context, the same law used to release the international drug trafficker is seen as a relevant device to prevent people without legal aid from being kept in prison indefinitely, in general, poor and black youths, often arrested for minor crimes.

Folha pointed out the issue in the headline as early as Monday (12), albeit with little depth. Something that other publications only did with greater or lesser emphasis after, in the middle of the week, Minister Luís Roberto Barroso said that the law has the virtue of allowing an inmate not to be forgotten.

Another relevant fact was the bore given by Crusoé on Wednesday (14) about PF operation, which, investigating suspicions of embezzlement of public money destined to confront Covid-19, reached the then vice-leader of the government, Senator Chico Rodrigues (DEM -RR).

For a good part of Thursday (15), Folha used the following headline on its website: "Bolsonaro removes senator from a leadership position and tries to disassociate himself from money bust between his buttocks. "
A reader found the headline low-level and saw it as "trying to hit another target."
As Bolsonaro has said on some occasions, the proximity between him and the senator has a long history. Also, although imagining the scene of the seizure of money in an unusual place may be intolerable for some, the fact is that the newspapers repeated the description made by the delegate of the case.
Folha didn’t get the tone wrong, but on social media, it tried to make fun of it at the risk of depoliticizing the subject.

"Bolsonaro ‘high-kicks' and removes vice-leader caught with money in his underwear," said the tweet, referring to the fact that the episode occurred hours after the president said he would give a flying round to the neck of anyone who practiced corruption in his administration.

By dismissing the deputy leader, the president responded to a politically compelling situation. His action was not that of a martial arts master against corruption. "At those times, it is a shame to be a subscriber to Folha," said a reader.

In the same turbulent week, Folha acknowledged an error on the front page. Not every day that happens.
The story that made the headline on Sunday (11) said that Brazil is the country with the most expanded public spending between 2008 and 2019. On Wednesday (14), after economists pointed out the error on social networks, the correction came. The article used data from 2008 and 2009, whose methodology is different from that used in 2010.
However, the text that brought the correction emphasized that, even without the two years, the escalation of government expenditure continued unparalleled among the world's leading economies (an "anomaly").
Even though the figures were correct from the start, the article should have been corrected. According to the paper, the increase in spending was mainly due to social benefits. Doesn't that make sense in such an unequal country? Was it all the work of pure irresponsibility?

The text did not listen to public finance experts to contextualize the facts, did not explain the meaning of the portrait presented, nor did it make a connection with the present.
Nor did it cite important information, such as the fact that the country has completed a pension reform, much defended precisely to contain the high expenditures on pensions and pensions, nor did it indicate how the GDP behaved in the period.

"I am a layman in economics, and I tried to understand the volley of numbers and their meanings. It seems that the data was used to confirm a thesis by the author or the newspaper and that's it," said one reader.
Among economists, concerns about the country's indebtedness and the conditions for payment of shorter-term debt are growing, which shows that a greater effort of contextualization would have done the report well. At the very least, it would have removed the reader's impression that Folha now and then follows an agenda that has little to do with contradictory, unjustified in the news content.

Coverage can only be won when the superficiality of a tweet does not tempt you.

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.