Once again, it's Chloroquine

It is disheartening to combat misinformation on the even page and then spread it on the odd page

"There are two places where the so-called 'early treatment' against Covid-19 still has space: in the minds of chloroquine advocates and in today's print edition of Folha," wrote a reader on Tuesday (23), regarding an advertisement published on page A5 of the Power notebook.

The advertising report "Manifesto pela Vida" took half a page from Folha and at least seven other newspapers.

In it, a self-titled group Doctors for Life defends the so-called "early treatment," a fancy name given to the use of drugs without scientific proof or scientifically proven ineffectiveness against Covid-19.

On the eve of the country reaching 250,000 Covid-19 deaths, it is surreal that a group of doctors say that cities that have adopted the "measures for early intervention" have shown good results.

What about the newspaper's decision to publish the manifesto?

In professional journalism, economic independence is an essential condition for the freedom to inform. In the name of information integrity, the search for autonomy takes place under a clear principle: the separation between editorial and commercial content: a reporter does not sell an advertisement, just as commercial contact does not interfere in the report.

In addition, the advertising and news content appears different so that the reader is not confused.

But is just anything worth advertising? On the subject, the commercial director of Folha, Marcelo Benez, says that the newspaper defends "freedom of commercial expression," according to which everyone who has a message to be disseminated has the right to do so, as long as it does not violate the law.

"The ad in question may be scientifically wrong, but it does not break any laws." The newspaper, says Benez, strictly respects the separation between Copywriting and Advertising, guaranteeing independence for the areas.

This relationship to which Benez refers - in the journalistic jargon, the separation of Church and State - ensures that the news will be published even if it affects advertisers' interests.

But what about when the ad damages the newsroom's image?

It is unreasonable to expect the newspaper to confirm the veracity of every ad it publishes - a law that governs the news. That's because advertising also deals with fantasy.

The commercial department, however, can say no.

In fact, it is not illegal to publish an advertisement like this, but it can be unethical and counterproductive since it undermines the confidence that the reader places in the work of the newsroom. As one reader recalled, the same newspaper that published the ad is part of the press consortium that works precisely to deny this type of (dis) information.

Furthermore, having content like this published in some of the country's largest newspapers gives the text the credibility it lacks.

The Médicos pela Vida highlighted the advertisement on its website and it was shared with an article by a Rio de Janeiro attorney who does not work with pandemics, but with freedom of expression.

"Isn't it ridiculous that countless people have had their posts removed from social networks or received warnings from social media networks, for defending an opinion on medical treatment shared by thousands of medical professionals?," asked the prosecutor.

It is amazing that the politicization of the health crisis remains strong and that Folha is importing it back into its pages, this time in the form of an advertisement.

According to Marcelo Träsel, president of Abraji (Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism), it is common for the commercial space to contradict the news. Still, the advertisement appeared at the height of a pandemic in which journalists have been at the forefront.

"The publication of the ad was perceived as a sign of irresponsibility and lack of sensitivity on the part of managers. It could be a severe blow to the morale of the newsrooms," he says.

According to Agência Lupa, since the beginning of the pandemic, 219 fact-checkings have been published on early treatment by five initiatives: Lupa, Comprova, Estadão Verifica, Aos Fatos, and Boatos.org. Folha itself published numerous reports on the risks involving the so-called "early treatment," in addition to texts about the association itself - the first of which in May 2020.

As one reader said, it is disheartening to fight misinformation on the even page and spread it on the odd page.

In journalism, the division between "Church and State" is an essential condition for the freedom to inform, but editorial criteria should guide both areas. Otherwise, the newspaper's credibility can be attained, putting the business itself at risk. The advertisement exists to make the newspaper viable and not the other way around.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon