Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In Brazil, When Things Go Wrong They Just Blame the Press

Salvador, Bahia, commemoration event of the Holocaust organized by the Brazilian Jewish community in the Bahian capital. The press is squeezed in a small area at about 20-30 meters from the stand where president Dilma Rousseff is staying. After the event the president flies away. No questions from the press.

We silly journalists came for the event well in advance, sometimes taking flights from cities far away to talk to the president. For nothing. Dilma did not have time for us. She flew away without giving us a minute of her time.

Salvador, Bahia. A couple of weeks before the strike of the policemen in Bahia I asked to be received by the Governor of Bahia for an interview about public security in the state. I am an international journalist. Not very common for an international reporter to come to Bahia other than for the Carnaval. I received no answer from the office of the Governor despite several emails I sent.

Salvador, Bahia. After the failure of the strike the press is blamed by the military police for all that went wrong. They didn't blame the criminal and terrorists acts done by the military police, hijacking autobus and paralyzing the traffic in the streets. Neither the arrastões (flash mob assaults) in the shopping centers.

Rio, Rio de Janeiro state. The journalists from Rede Globo are expelled by the area of the police on strike. They are depicting a wrong picture of the strike. They are responsible for the growing failure of the strike in Rio.

What is funny in what is happening in Brazil? Both sides of the strike, the authorities and the strikers, are punishing the press. The press is responsible for everything. The strong powers ignore the press. Journalists are seen as a pain in the neck by politicians. But also police strikers do not like the picture the press gives of them.

Journalists are always criticized in Brazil. But they play a very important role. Seven ministers stepped down among allegations of corruption and similar charges. And the press was responsible for revealing that.

To be an investigative journalist is a serious risky job in Brazil. You risk your own life most of the time for a low pay. Brazil is not like the Anglo-Saxon countries, where the press is so strong that they can even blackmail the strong powers.

Look at the UK for instance. The Murdoch group was effectively such a strong power for UK politics that British Prime ministers were always in good relations with that group. Rede Globo in Brazil has a strong power too. But only Rede Globo.

95% of the journalists in Brazil, especially the not very-well known reporters, are sometimes in the hands of God when it comes to job security or even their own life security.

Journalists killed in Brazil while on the job are many and sometimes not even known by the large press. But why is that? Because civil society in Brazil is not very well organized. Especially in the North and Northeast of Brazil. The journalist is seen as an intruder. Someone to stay away from.

And especially foreign journalists feel uncomfortable in Brazil. Because they are used to ask questions that go straight to the point. And that makes people feel like they are being offended. While that is not true.

I remember once I was interviewing a not well known politician. I asked some questions about his controversial past. And he answered: "Who are you to ask me that? A journalist? A foreign journalist?" And then he laughed loudly. But do you know what?

If Brazil wants to be the 6th economy in the world and wants to be a global player, Brazil has to play according to international rules. And Brazil has to respect the freedom of the press.

Otherwise it will remain a regional player with no power. Maybe the politicians should think about that, especially when they travel abroad to meet with potential investors in Brazil.

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