‘Fake news’? Brazilian media have faced serious trust crisis among their audiences in the country.
Brazil. South America. 1500 years old. A country that is home to over 210 million people, a rich ecosystem, and fascinating wonders have been experiencing a serious economical and political crisis that has affected the entire country in the last decade. However, for the first time in the history of the country of football, the story about a major political crisis has been produced by a tremendously fragmented media system.
Once you look back at the history of Brazil, you find out that the country is very young when it comes to experiencing a democratic political system. After more than 50 years of dictatorship and military control, democracy was restored in the country in 1985 .
Brazilians are known as people who enjoy weighing in whenever there is a discussion about politics. They are extremely engaged in the fight to have their voices heard and keep democracy alive in a country that struggles a lot to have laws implemented.
It is known that Brazilian people are passionate about football and samba. However, they are also active television viewers, leaving certain times during the day to gather families to especially watch TV programmes.
Besides soap operas, in Brazil people grow up having to watch the news at 8 pm first because their favourite soap opera would come next, and it might be as important as the news for them.
The Brazilian media is conventionally partisan. Concerning the political system, it is classified as a polarized pluralist model, which shows the following aspects as its predominant features:
- Low circulation of newspapers: Newspaper circulation and readership in Brazil have commonly been poor when it is compared to the standards in the majority of developed countries – 61 daily newspapers per 1,000 people in 2002.
- Mainly adapted to the political elite and the similarity of electronic media, such as TV and Radio, in the communications market.
- Quite recent press freedom and the increase of commercial media.
- Newspapers struggle in terms of finances, which make them rely on subsidies and assistance from the government- through official advertising.
- Despite some independent diversity, the political parallelism is strong. There is a control of opinionated journalism that is directed to the protection of ideological, political, and economic interests, and, in more extraordinary circumstances, it benefits governments, parties, or economic groups.
- The public television system likely supports government policies and professionalism in the media area is still developing.
- Heavy engagement of the State and parties with the economy.
Jornal Nacional (National news), a primetime news programme aired by Rede Globo since 1969, was the second most-watched Brazilian programme in 2015 – 26,007,251 viewers per minute and for 5,5 million people worldwide via Globo International -,according to Ibope (Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics) ).
The traditional mass communication model in Brazil is heavily based on cross-ownership of media, when a group owns vehicles in more than one media – such as radio, TV, and newspaper – in the same market, even though the Federal Constitution (Article 220, paragraph 5) states that “the media cannot, directly or indirectly, be subject to monopoly or oligopoly”.
The concentration of ownership creates audience concentration and threatens the diversity of opinions in the field of communications. A survey conducted by the project Media Ownership Monitor Brasil 2017, the four largest broadcasters, –Globo, SBT, Record, and Bandeirantes– which are all located in the Brazilian megalopolis, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, hold over 70% of the entire audience in the country.
The press is controlled by three traditional newspapers: Folha de S.Paulo, O Estado de S.Paulo e O Globo. The Magazine market has only two relevant magazines, Veja and Época, in terms of national circulation with the publication of weekly issues.
Grupo Globo, for instance, is owned by individuals who have had a great impact on the country’s politics.
The government has invested high amounts of money in media buy. Between 2000 and 2014 the government bought R$23 billion in media space, and Grupo Globo was the media outlet that received the largest number. The period entails the last three years of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso government, entire Lula government (8 years), and the first mandate of Dilma Rousseff (4 years).
When Bolsonaro was elected president, he decided to reduce considerably the amount of money the media companies were receiving and equally distribute the funds between them, differently from what was happening in previous years whereas Grupo Globo used to receive 80% of the available budget.
Many citizens across the country share criticism and skepticism against the largest free-to-air television network, Globo, and other media outlets. People are aware of the partisan nature of the traditional media, which makes them doubt whether the news reported is biased or not.
Current president Jair Bolsonaro from the far-right Aliança Party has also persistently criticized the company because he believes they were not fair while he was campaigning for the elections. He alleges that the media have spread a lot of ‘fake news’ about his government, and matters related to Brazil.
The most serious economic crisis in the country has been covered by a weakened media. According to João Carlos Magalhães, a Ph.D. researcher at the London School of Economics, “Brazil, like other countries, has witnessed the rise of an anti-establishment zeitgeist. This crisis of representativeness also affects the media: who is the press to define what is relevant? they question”, said the researcher to the website Politike.
Magalhães also highlighed that “the Brazilian media has a bad record when it comes to defending democratic values, as the 1964 coup demonstrates. Third, we forget that people’s understanding of the news is as skewed as its creation by journalists. We, readers, understand what we want, and easily forget the news that confronts our prejudices against a newspaper or a broadcaster. And finally, people now have a much more fragmented media system at their disposal”.
The last 10 years have been very hard for traditional media companies in Brazil, especially the press. Two main things hit them in a way that mass redundancies were conducted and many experienced journalists and editors were laid off:
- The general financial crisis in the country.
- Media companies (newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters) inability to compete with major social media businesses, such as Facebook and Google, for online advertisements.
The credibility crisis faced by the traditional media in Brazil has been followed by the gradual empowerment of independent native digital media.
The Operation Car Wash in 2015 set up to uncover the first-of-its-kind web of corruption in the country was just the beginning of an integrity crisis that is linked to a crisis in the business model adopted by the media, which has depended on the selling of publicity for a century to gather funds and now struggles with the resources migration from their outlets to online media companies like Google and Facebook.
“Of course Brazilian journalism had an obligation to cover the events, but we’ve collected a number of problems since then. One of them was the condescending and servile coverage to the police authorities, without any challenge or critical sense. What was said from Curitiba [Operation Car Wash] had an unquestionable tone, and that domesticated the press in general ” said Rogério Christofoletti, journalist and researcher at Objethos (Observatório de Ética Jornalística, Federal University of Santa Catarina) to Marco Zero, a non-profit civil society organization that promotes independent journalism.
The consumption of media in Brazil is large, especially in entertainment and social media. It is one of the largest per capita in the world.
The country has 130 million users on Facebook and 120 million on WhatsApp. The population has gradually changed the way they consume news in the country and the responsibility for such changes is on social networks, particularly when they can be accessed through mobile phones- the country today has as many mobile phones as it does people.
It is estimated that Brazilians spend around 5 hours a day online, which means that the consumption of information has as its sources social networks. This scenario contributes to some superficiality of information and has (re) defined journalistic production.
The current reality where social networks dominate society, traditional media has faced the challenge of keeping up with the changes and novelties the internet has caused. For instance, the newspaper Extra, owned by Grupo Globo, has created a particular newsroom to produce content from material sent them by the readers, such as photos, videos, texts, and audio.
Grupo Globo has faced serious financial problems resulting from the rise of social networks. As reported by Statista, the company witnessed a 50% decrease in net worth from 2015 to 2016.
With the trust crisis becoming ever more imperative, traditional media now encounters a very difficult challenge: If it does not promote innovations– in both its business models and news coverage – there is a possibility of dissipation. On the other hand, this crisis might be paving the way for new digital media.