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The press vs. the government

The Democracy Network, comprised of three major newspapers, played a role in the fall of Jango

AGÊNCIA ESTADOTroops at the Central do Brazil political rallyAGÊNCIA ESTADO

In the print media jargon, retranca [in Portuguese] is the classification of the subject of a page, section or set of journalistic texts. So it was under the classification Na Rede da Democracia [In the Democracy Network], from October 1963 to March 1964, that Brazil’s three most important dailies, O Jornal, published by Diários Associados, Jornal do Brasil, of the Nascimento Brito family, and O Globo, of the Marinho family – came together around a common subject: the defense of nationalism against communism, the critique of the ineffectiveness of Congress, the lack of legitimacy of President João Goulart [whose nickname was Jango], and the danger of the government yielding to mass rallies and popular movements. Published every day in the three newspapers and aired at night on their respective radio stations, the Democracy Network helped to weaken and topple the administration of Jango, who was deposed by the military that staged a coup in 1964.

Subsequent political events in Brazilian history have often been recorded and debated. However, the consortium of the three newspapers under the Democracy Network heading has not been studied much. It was in this vacuum that the historian Aloysio Castelo de Carvalho worked on his post-doctoral research in social history at the University of São Paulo (USP), the outcome of which is now being released as a book, A Rede da Democracia: O Globo, O Jornal and Jornal do Brasil na queda do governo Goulart (1961-1964) [The Democracy Network: O Globo, O Jornal and Jornal do Brasil in the fall of the Goulart administration (1961-1964)], jointly published by NitPress and the publishing house of UFF (Fluminense Federal University), where Carvalho teaches.

“The Democracy Network forms part of a debate on the relationship between the newspapers and the João Goulart administration,” says the researcher. A relationship that evolved in a peculiar manner: in August 1961, when Janio Quadros resigned, the three dailies advocated an anti-coup position, affirming the legality of vice-president João Goulart ascending to power. Two years later, the Democracy Network turned against him.

In 1961, it fell upon the then governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Leonel Brizola, to set up the so-called Legality Network, that transmitted, from the basement of the Piratini Palace, speeches of Jango’s ally, broadcast on short wave by dozens of stations in the inner state and in other states. Years later, the Brizola resistance model would come to inspire the entrepreneur Assis Chateaubriand, owner of Diários Associados. The radio stations Tupi, Globo and Jornal do Brasil jointly started to transmit, starting in 1963, statements that were published the day after in the newspapers under the same classification. Some of the headings illustrate the editorial content of the Network: “National Student Union is a lair of political delinquents,” “The so-called union apparatus is actually a communist apparatus,” “Serious days approach if the Marxist invasion is not repelled,” “Ministry of Labor heads the strikes that agitate our country” and “Our country is not only threatened by, but committed to communism” are some of the examples of the position of the press vis-à-vis the Jango administration. Among the signatories were opposition congressional representatives and the owners of newspapers who, according to Carvalho, intended to become political actors.

AGÊNCIA ESTADOArmy tanks in Rio de Janeiro on the day of the military coupAGÊNCIA ESTADO

It was while trying to understand the role of the press in the fall of Jango and in the rise of the military government that Carvalho found a pattern of discourse comprised of four main themes: a concept exalting the value of the very press, which assigned itself the role of public opinion spokesperson; the fear that the entry of the masses into the political system would pose a risk for the country; lack of confidence in the president of the Republic when he acquired popular support; lack of confidence in political institutions, including Congress and the Senate, which helped to strengthen the perception of the role of the press as the inspector of the said institutions and affirmed the importance of the freedom of the press.

During the Jango years, the three newspapers that came together under the Democracy Network regarded Brazilian society as a society of emerging masses, but resisted their political participation, which started to materialize in the form of social movements and public rallies. “The newspapers reacted conservatively, stating that only political participation through institutional means was legitimate,” recalls Carvalho.

However, the mass of workers that was getting into political life in the process of urbanization and industrialization had no access to these institutional means. The illiterate were not allowed to vote, for instance, and in 1963 half of Brazil’s population could neither read nor write. Hence the great importance of the Democracy Network airing its ideas on the radio, in order to acquire followers among the masses as well, as part of a process that, according to Carvalho, was part of the press’ competition to represent public opinion. “It’s a publicity-oriented view of public opinion, which devalues expression via votes or institutions,” explains the professor.

Although he acknowledges that there have been very negative periods, Eugênio Bucci, a professor of journalism at ESPM (the School of Advertising and Marketing) feels that generalizations about relations between the government and the press face two problems: first, the impossibility of characterizing the press as an entity with unified conduct. There is, he reminds us, plurality and diversity. Which could be greater, he acknowledges, but that has already progressed a great deal in relation to the 1960’s. In the current setting, not only newspapers, but radio stations, television stations and websites form a mosaic of communication vehicles expressing viewpoints that can be very different from each other.

“Despite the behavior of certain vehicles of the so-called major press, there is more diversity, more plurality. A mentality still survives amongst us that affects the press and rejects everything that emerges from illiterate people, this blend of race and color regarded as bad,” argues Bucci. According to him, one must be very careful not to fall into a linear model, according to which one would classify the press as good or bad.

FOLHAPRESSGoulart addresses the crowd at Central do BrasilFOLHAPRESS

Which leads Bucci to discuss the second problem: as reflected in the news after president Dilma Roussef took office, there are times when a veritable honeymoon arises between the newspapers and the government. This was the case, for instance, at the start of Lula’s first term, recalls Bucci. According to him, the treatment accorded to the Lula administration varied widely between the terms and vehicles. “The Record network, for instance, competed with the Globo Network in the coverage of criticism of the government,” he exemplifies, recalling that blogs and websites such as IG play an important role as a counterpoint to the line of discourse by the major newspapers, and also influence opinion.

The fact that the internet is not yet a form of mass media led the political scientist Paulo Baía, a professor at the University of Rio de Janeiro State (UFRJ), to disagree with the capacity of these new media to democratize information and become an alternative to the major press vehicles. According to him, the fundamental mechanism that safeguards the umbilical cord between power and the press is the law of radio and TV concessions. Therefore, he believes that the only way to change what he calls a “bilateral relation” between the State and the media is to review the law of concessions. “We must ensure that any social group can express itself with autonomy,” advocates Baía.

The autonomy of the press has always been under debate during times of crisis. This was therefore the case in the 1960’s, when the Democracy Network preached its right to freedom of the press as a means of ensuring the expression of a given point of view regarding the Jango administration, a view shared by the three newspapers in the consortium. The debate about the freedom of the press came up again during Lula’s two terms and with this debate came a discussion of mechanisms for the social control of information. “Freedom of the press is a line of discourse used by newspapers when they want to enhance their value as the sole channel of expression of public opinion,” claims Carvalho. “Lula is a product of the freedom of the press,” counter argues Bucci, recalling that it was the political détente and the demise of press censorship that came with it that enabled the Worker’s Party to come into contact with the electorate.”

Carvalho concluded that newspapers, when they feel threatened, establish formal alliances, such as the Democracy Network, to echo the liberal and conservative lines of discourse. “A time will come when the press will become the object of criticism by other institutions. And the newspapers will no longer be able to be irresponsible and manipulative,” Carvalho wagers.