Have We Taken Back Avenida Paulista?

June 2013, ten years later, continues to haunt the country and its journalism

"Brazilian Chamber approves land demarcation timeframe law in a new setback for Lula's government", wrote Folha on Tuesday night (30). The headline on the printed issue the next morning was similarly worded. By reading the newspaper, the defeat of the federal government, the political fact, was more important than the socio-environmental setback promoted by the deputies. The reduction of what happened to a political fact was exactly what was intended by the parliamentarians, who transferred the discussion from the technical field to the ideological one. A good part of the press, not just Folha, fell into this kind of focus trap.

On the same Tuesday, hours earlier, the newspapers published that Febraban had announced an anti-deforestation protocol, linking the granting of credit to the ability to trace the herds. Banks and slaughterhouses enthusiastically joined the measure, which aims to anticipate future requirements of European legislation. At the launch of the initiative, no one asked or answered about the Land demarcation timeframe or concomitant dismantling of the Ministries of Environment and the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples.

The economic fact imposed itself, a new trap, but it did not manage to reach its main addressee. An overseas dispatch by the Associated Press, on Thursday (1st), attributed the week of environmental defeats in the country to the "beef caucus", a suggestive translation chosen by the agency to designate the local ruralist section in the congress. The world's largest beef exporter's ESG effort went to vinegar in just two days.

This week's examples show how easy it is to slip up when it comes to establishing the focus of the news, but that's part of the game. The real problem is when the process ends up being understood by readers as convenience, connivance, or something worse.

Exactly ten years ago, in June 2013, the country began to boil without really understanding where the fire was coming from. São Paulo found itself in turmoil because of a bunch of kids who angry at the twenty cents raise in the price of a bus fare, decided to mercilessly cut off major arteries of the city. Things got to the point that, on the 13th, Folha's first editorial called attention by its headline, short, thick, and in a military tone: "Take back Avenida Paulista".

The text, seen through today's eyes, is frightening: "Worse than that, only the declared central objective of the group: public transport for free. The unrealism of the agenda already betrays the hidden intention of vandalizing public equipment and what is taken for symbols of capitalist power"; "The right to protest is sacred, but it is not above the freedom to come and go"; "It's time to put an end to this"; "When it comes to vandalism, there is only one way to fight it: the force of the law".

The force of the law did come into action and hurt many in the course of that Thursday. A reporter for this newspaper was shot in the eye by a rubber bullet fired by a public security officer. She made a full recovery, luck that others did not have.

The controversial editorial was brought up not by the ombudsman, but by an attentive reader who faced with Folha's first article on the event, published last weekend, missed the ingredient that he perceives as the "trigger for gigantism" that acts acquired in the sequence: the brutality of the São Paulo Military Police. (In response to his message, the Politics desk reported that police violence will be explored in a future installment of the series.)

The same reader goes further and asks if Folha, as well as O Estado de S. Paulo, which published a similar opinion at the time, would not be willing to reflect on its role in that coverage. "No one will expect a retraction of these editorials, but perhaps the current analysis of those events, now ten years apart, may allow the press to reflect on certain biases and positions that ended up encouraging police violence against citizens and journalists", he wrote.

It is inevitable to extrapolate the questioning to Lava Jato ( Operation Car Wash), in which a large portion of the media welcomed the selective leaks of the Curitiba Task Force, fulfilling a strategic role in the operation, as verified by Vaza Jato ( a journalistic investigation into the operation Car Wash). It is self-criticism that Folha readers especially insist on waiting for. Far from establishing links between 2013 and Lava Jato, the discussion is about the media's behavior in the face of acute symptoms of a sick political system.

In an interview with the newspaper Valor, political scientist Sergio Fausto stated that "the understanding of 2013 is still in dispute, it is a recent fact". It was a watershed in Brazilian politics, but "it did not produce a positive institutional change that would improve the quality of the Brazilian State and the quality of democracy".

It is necessary to discuss how much the media contributed to this non-change and what contribution it can offer in a country that continues to be under democratic risk. Slogans, as we already know, do not work.

Jose Henrique Mariante

An engineer and journalist, he was a reporter, correspondent, editor, and secretary at Folha, where he has worked since 1991. He is the ombudsman.

Translated by Cassy Dias