*This post has been updated.
After Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro offended TV Globo journalists and threatened not to renew the broadcaster's license in response to a report on Jornal Nacional, Grupo Globo published an editorial in which it said that the leader “just wants a press that flatters him and does not seek to report the facts as they are, but as he would like them to be.”
The editorial “O lugar de cada um” (The place of each one), published on Nov. 5 in the newspaper O Globo, is another development in the tense relationship between Bolsonaro and the press, fueled by the president's recurring attacks on critical journalism. According to a survey of the website Aos Fatos, from Jan. 1 to Oct. 11, Bolsonaro made 162 criticisms of the work of journalists and media outlets – and 18 compliments or mentions in defense of press freedom.
After the Aos Fatos survey period, however, came the attacks on TV Globo on Oct. 29. There was also the president's statement on Oct. 31 that he ordered all Folha de S. Paulo subscriptions in the federal government to be canceled and that newspaper advertisers should “pay attention.” Following Donald Trump's playbook, Bolsonaro announced the measure a week after the U.S. president said he would order federal agencies to cancel subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post.
“Expect more journalism,” Globo says
The current tug-of-war between Bolsonaro and Grupo Globo is due to the president's reaction to a Jornal Nacional report that aired on the night of the 29th. The report said one of the suspects in the murder of councilwoman Marielle Franco on March 14, 2018 met with another accused of the crime, who lives in the same condominium where Bolsonaro lives in Rio de Janeiro, hours before the murder. The report had access to testimony of the condominium doorman in which he states that the visitor said he was going to the house of Jair Bolsonaro, then federal deputy, and that "Mr. Jair" answered the call through the intercom and authorized the entry. The story also states that on that day, Bolsonaro was in Brasilia, as pointed out in attendance records of the then-deputy in the Chamber floor and videos posted on his social networks.
In the live broadcast in which he attacked the journalism of TV Globo, Bolsonaro denied any involvement with Franco's murder and suggested the possibility that the doorman had lied, was encouraged to give false testimony or had signed the statement without reading it.
Days after the publication of the report and the president's attacks on the broadcaster, TV Globo's general director of journalism Ali Kamel sent an internal note to the company's journalists detailing the investigation that gave rise to the report and giving “the most effusive congratulations” to the professionals responsible for the investigation, as reported by Folha.
“We will continue doing journalism, searching for the truth. It is our mission. For us, it's a source of pride. To others, of irritation and fear,” Kamel wrote in reference to the president's attacks.
In the Nov. 5 editorial, Grupo Globo states that the president's attack last week “is not new,” as he “has no appreciation for the independent and professional press.” “He didn't have it during the campaign and he still doesn’t have it, starting from day one in office,” the text said.
The company also lauded its journalists, saying that in its 94 years of existence, “it has earned the respect of the public because it has always surrounded itself with the best talent, the most competent journalists. Professionals committed with truth, who are upstanding, honest and who are dedicated, with great personal effort, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after year, to doing their best in the search for quality information.”
Grupo Globo referenced the president's offenses against the company's journalists in his live broadcast on Facebook on the 29th and said that “calling them scoundrels, scumbags and pigs says nothing about them, but much of the values of those who give such indecent insults.”
“It is necessary to repudiate such an attitude from the president as vehemently as possible and to denounce it as that of a man who today has no illusions, does not share the most basic democratic values. However, reactions on the same level are not expected. Expect more journalism. Expect the fearless search for the truth, to portray the facts as they are, positive or negative, including about the government. And to denounce any attempt to curtail the freedoms of our democracy,” the group said in its communication.
According to Folha, the public prosecutor's office of accounts asked the Court of Audit of the Union (TCU) to investigate possible losses caused by Bolsonaro to Globo and the country's accounts by threateneing not to renew the station's license.
In the request sent to TCU on Nov. 6, Deputy Prosecutor Lucas Furtado argues that "if the existence is proven of ideological motivation or mere disgust with the news stories broadcast by the station for the federal government to act, as it has been doing, in order to deliberately undermine TV Globo's image and finances, undermining the fundraising activities of its sponsors, it is, in my view, an extremely serious situation, since it could even be interpreted as an act of blatantly unconstitutional censorship."
According to Folha, the request was sent to Minister José Múcio Monteiro, president of TCU, who is expected to send the case forward.
Folha “poisons my government,” Bolsonaro says
Days after Globo, Folha again became a target for Bolsonaro, who has been attacking the newspaper since the election campaign in 2018. In an interview with TV Bandeirantes on Oct. 31, the president stated that he had determined "that the entire federal government terminate and cancel the subscription of Folha de S. Paulo."
“The order I gave [is that] no part of my government will receive the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper here in Brasilia. It is determined. That's what I can do, but nothing more than that," he said.
Bolsonaro said it was not censorship and "no one will be punished" if he wants to read the newspaper. "His advisor goes to the store and buys it and has fun," he said. “I don't want to know about Folha de S. Paulo anymore, it poisons my government to read Folha de S. Paulo.”
Later, in a live broadcast on his Facebook profile, the president sent a message to Folha's advertisers: “We will no longer spend money on this type of newspaper. And who advertises in Folha de S. Paulo pays attention, right? ”
In a statement, Folha said that "it regrets yet another openly discriminatory attitude of the President of the Republic against the newspaper and will continue to do, in relation to his government, the critical and nonpartisan journalism that characterized it and that it practiced in relation to all governments."
Days after the president's statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs excluded Folha from the news clipping made available daily to employees of the ministry, the newspaper reported. According to Folha itself, the Ministry confirmed that the exclusion was due to Bolsonaro's determination to cancel the government's newspaper subscriptions.
On Nov. 4, Deputy Prosecutor Furtado sent TCU a request to investigate a possible "misuse of purpose" in Bolsonaro's order for the federal government to cancel Folha's subscriptions, the newspaper reported. He also asked the court to suspend the president's decision by precautionary measure.
Bolsonaro's speech, according to the deputy prosecutor, points out that the president is "opposed to the content of the news" in Folha, the newspaper reported. Furtado states in his request that if it is confirmed that the cancellation of subscriptions had no legitimate motive, but was in fact an act of "political persecution of the newspaper," it is characterized as a "misuse of purpose" in the administrative act. According to Folha, the TCU must open a process for the petition of the deputy prosecutor to be analyzed.
Aos Fatos: Attacks increase during government crisis
A survey from Aos Fatos concluded that, since his inauguration as president, Bolsonaro has made a comment denigrating the press on average every two days. Grupo Globo and Folha are the president's most frequent targets, appearing in 30 percent of Bolsonaro's negative mentions of the press, according to a survey based on “speeches and interviews transcribed by Palácio do Planalto, in the archive of Aos Fatos’ fact-checks and in tweets from the president,” the website explained.
The frequency of the president's criticism of the press increases in times of crisis in the government, Aos Fatos concluded. August was the month Bolsonaro made the most negative comments about the press: there were 46 during the 31 days of the month in which there was intense national and international coverage of the burning of the Amazon rainforest. Another moment of heightened criticism came in May, after the press reported investigators were allowed access to the banking records of Senator Flávio Bolsonaro's (PSL-RJ), the son of the president who was then being investigated for a variety of crimes, including money laundering, as reported by UOL.
Among Bolsonaro's 18 positive mentions of the press accounted for by Aos Fatos in the period is an affirmation of Brazil's commitment to upholding press freedom in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 24. There are also praises with caveats, such as the statement that “family, religion, freedom of the press, despite the excess in many opportunities, you are important to the future of Brazil,” made during a speech at the celebration of Soldier's Day in Brasilia on Aug. 23.
*This note was updated on 11/12/2019 to include information about petitions from the public prosecutor's office of accounts to the Court of Audit of the Union about statements by Jair Bolsonaro about TV Globo and Folha.