Media Clash In Brazil: A Distant Mirror
Media Clash In Brazil: A Distant Mirror
After a quarter-century of intensive grassroots organizing and a victorious presidential campaign a year ago, Brazilian social movements are in a strong position as they push the left-wing Workers Party government to fulfill its promises. The contrast to Washingtonâ€™s current political climate is as diametrical as the opposite seasons of the two countries. Yet Brazilian activists are now giving heightened priority to the same concern that preoccupies an increasing number of people in the United States -- the imperative of challenging the corporate media.
On the night of Nov. 10, at the headquarters of the Brazilian
Press Association here in Rio, more than 100 activists gathered to help
kick off the nationwide Campaign for Media Democratization. In spite of
progress for social justice, Brazilâ€™s mass media remain firmly in the
hands of nine wealthy families intent on serving the interests of
conservative economic elites. The contradictions between an ascendant
democratic movement and a timeworn media oligarchy are extreme.
The government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -- known to
all as simply â€œLulaâ€ -- represents hope for a vast population of
impoverished people suffering from the countryâ€™s shameful economic
inequality. One of the key goals is agrarian reform -- an issue that
has come to great prominence in recent years largely due to the
pathbreaking work of Brazilâ€™s diverse and well-organized landless
workers movement, the MST.
Brazilâ€™s constitution stipulates that ownership of land not being
put to social use can be transferred to dispossessed citizens. Fed up
with the governmentâ€™s longstanding failure to implement that provision,
the MST has organized many land takeovers in recent years.
Violent physical attacks on landless workers by police and goon
squads have run parallel to the media attacks in the nationâ€™s largest
MST activists are being slandered and trashed by major media in
Brazil. They say the media establishment is seeking to â€œcriminalize the
social movements.â€ Thatâ€™s why the MST has joined forces with many other groups to launch the Campaign for Media Democratization.
At several gatherings in November -- including the first Brazilian
Social Forum, which drew 25,000 activists to the city of Belo
Horizonte -- I heard many people compare the struggles for land and for media space. One speaker called for â€œagrarian reform of the airwaves.â€
Among the first components of the Campaign for Media Democratization is a nationwide boycott of Veja, the countryâ€™s biggest weekly news magazine. Activists call the slick magazine â€œa symbol of manipulation.â€
A recent example of Vejaâ€™s typical spin was an extensive one-sided
article about genetically modified crops -- a fiercely contested issue
in Brazil, where the U.S.-based agribusiness giant Monsanto is eager to
gain high-tech control over the nationâ€™s large soybean industry.
â€œVejaâ€ means â€œlookâ€ in Portuguese. So, new stickers promoting the
boycott say â€œVeja! Que Mentira!â€ Translation: â€œLook! What a lie!â€
During the year since voters chose Lula in a landslide, mainstream
Brazilian media outlets have often warned against progressive
initiatives while encouraging him to abandon key elements of the
Workers Party program. â€œIn this way,â€ a National Student Union leader
commented days ago, â€œthe media struggle becomes more important.â€
Lulaâ€™s newly conciliatory approach toward the International Monetary Fund early this month is a victory for Brazilâ€™s media monopoly and the interests it represents. But he appears to be moving ahead with some aspects of a social-justice agenda that could put him on a collision course with media titans.
While laying the groundwork for directly confronting anti-democratic concentrations of media power, Brazilian social movements are also proceeding to further develop independent means of communication.
Grassroots groups are making effective use of unlicensed radio
transmitters that inform shantytowns and other neighborhoods in ways
that are impossible via capitalist media. An impressive weekly broadsheet newspaper that circulates nationally, Brasil de Fato, is
nearing its first anniversary. Numerous other non-corporate media
outlets are already functioning, and many others are in the works.
Such outlets provide a markedly different working environment than
Brazilâ€™s corporate media do. Many mainstream journalists complain that
theyâ€™re under pressure to constrain news coverage -- whether the
restrictions involve not reporting on strikes or not mentioning that a
governor was booed at a public event.
After a few days of going to meetings and listening to speeches in
three Brazilian cities, I felt right at home. Movements for democracy
are learning how to organize for democratization of media. In Brazil
and the United States, or anywhere else, a free flow of information and
opinion is not only worth fighting for -- itâ€™s essential.
Norman Solomon is co-author of â€œTarget Iraq: What the News Media Didnâ€™t Tell You.â€ For an excerpt and other information, go to: