Bolsonaro government excludes Folha de S. Paulo from bidding and president recommends Brazilians "not buy the newspaper"

Brazil’s Secretary of Social Communication of the Presidency of the Republic, Fábio Wajngarten, accused Folha de S. Paulo of “defending a conspiracy for the exit” of President Jair Bolsonaro, and of “preaching disrespect, lies and frustrated attempts to demoralize him” in an article published in the newspaper Dec. 2.

The text is a response to the editorial "Fantasia de imperador” (Emperor's Fantasy), published by Folha on Nov. 29, in which the newspaper stated that Bolsonaro "does not understand and will never understand the limits that the Republic imposes on the exercise of the Presidency."

Folha's editorial, in turn, was a reaction to the newspaper's exclusion from a bid by the Presidency of the Republic to subscribe to national and international press outlets, and to Bolsonaro's statement when asked about it last Friday. The Brazilian president said he no longer wants to read the newspaper and recommended "to all Brazil here not to buy the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.

These are the latest developments in Bolsonaro's attack on the newspaper, which since the election campaign has been one of the most frequent targets of the Brazilian president's attacks on the press.

Folha “is not even for lining the chicken coop,” Bolsonaro says

The Bolsonaro government excluded Folha, one of the most widely circulated newspapers in Brazil, from a bid from the Presidency to subscribe to national and international newspapers and magazines, without presenting the technical criteria that supported the selection of titles.

bolsonaroJair Bolsonaro was sworn in as Brazil's president in January 2019. Photo: Alan Santos/PR

The bidding notice published in the Federal Official Gazette on Nov. 28, has as its object the “contracting of subscription services for online access to national and international newspapers and magazines.” The electronic auction notice lists the outlets whose subscriptions are requested by the Presidency of the Republic, which includes 19 Brazilian and five foreign newspapers, and eight Brazilian and two foreign magazines.

Folha's absence from this list is notable for being one of the leading newspapers in the country and the first in the digital circulation ranking in October 2019, with 241,763 digital subscriptions that month, according to data from the Instituto Verificador de Circulação (IVC), as reported by the site Poder360.

However, excluding Folha from the list of subscriptions requested by the Presidency is in line with Bolsonaro's statements against the newspaper since before he was elected. In addition, more recently, on Oct. 31, the Brazilian president stated that he had determined "that the entire federal government terminate and cancel the subscription of Folha de S. Paulo."

Asked by Folha itself about the technical criteria that supported the newspaper's exclusion from bidding, Bolsonaro said that "Folha de S.Paulo is not even for lining the chicken coop." "Look, I'm ceasing to spend public money," the president said.

I don't want to read Folha anymore. And period. And no minister of mine. I recommend to all Brazil here not to buy the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo. Until they learn that they have a biblical passage, John 8:32 ["And they shall know the truth, and the truth shall make them free."] The press has an obligation to publish the truth. Only that. And the advertisers who advertise in Folha as well,” Bolsonaro said when questioned by the newspaper's report in front of the Alvorada Palace, in front of a group of supporters, as reported by Folha.

The president also said he does not buy products advertised in the newspaper. “Any ad made in Folha de S.Paulo I don't buy that product and period. I want free, independent press, but above all to speak the truth. Am I asking too much?” he asked, according to Folha.

This is not the first time Bolsonaro has referred to advertisers in Folha when criticizing the newspaper. On Oct. 31, hours after saying that he had decided to cancel Folha's subscriptions at agencies in his government, the president sent a message to the publication's advertisers during a live broadcast on his Facebook profile: “We will no longer spend money on this kind of newspaper. And whoever advertises in Folha de S. Paulo pays attention, right?”

TCU should suspend bidding, columnist says

Also on Friday, hours after Bolsonaro's statement, Folha reported that a Deputy Attorney General before the Court of Audit of the Union (TCU) presented a petition to the court asking that Folha not be excluded from bidding to provide the Presidency with subscriptions for digital press outlets.

Deputy Attorney Lucas Furtado claimed that the motivations for the newspaper's withdrawal from the competition process “breach the narrow limits of the discretionary route of the administrative act” and offend the “constitutional principles of impersonality, isonomy, motivation and morality,” Folha reported.

In a column published Dec. 2, journalist Lauro Jardim of O Globo newspaper said TCU should grant a precautionary measure to suspend the bidding. According to him, "there was a frantic exchange of messages between the ministers" after Furtado presented his petition and "the tendency is that the suspension of the bidding will be decided by a large majority."

Federal Deputy Paulo Teixeira, from the Workers’ Party (PT), also filed with the TCU and the Attorney General's Office “a petition against Jair Bolsonaro for excluding the Folha de São Paulo newspaper from government bidding,” as he wrote in his profile in Twitter on Friday. "I consider it a serious attack on democracy and freedom of the press," the deputy said.

Also through its Twitter profile, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it "repudiates all attacks by President @jairbolsonaro on the press, especially @folha newspaper."

“Since last year's election campaign, @JairBolsonaro has encouraged hatred of journalists and has fostered distrust of the work of the press, which undermines freedom of expression in the country,” RSF wrote.

The Knight Center contacted the Presidency of the Republic and questioned the technical criteria underlying the selection of newspapers and magazines present in the bidding process and the exclusion of Folha de S. Paulo, but received no response as of the publication of this note.

Bolsonaro is “president dressed as emperor,” Folha says

In an editorial published on Nov. 29, entitled “Fantasia de imperador” (Emperor’s Fantasy), Folha stated that Bolsonaro "does not understand and will never understand the limits that the Republic imposes on the exercise of the Presidency." “This is a personality that combines levity and authoritarianism,” the newspaper wrote.

“His pen does not have the gift of transmitting to citizens the whims of his will and his primitive desires. The empire of the senses does not preside over republican life. When the Constitution states that legality, impersonality and morality govern the public administration, these are not words that are blown to the wind during a ‘live’ on a social network live,” Folha said.

The newspaper added that, on the eve of his 100th birthday, "it has to deal once again with a president dressed as an emperor," and "faces the task with a mixture of regret and optimism."

“Regret for the undermining of the values of the Republic that this circumstantial occupant of the Presidency sponsors. Optimism for the conviction that Brazil's future is greater than the figure that currently governs it,” Folha concluded.

On Dec. 1, the newspaper's ombudsman, Flavia Lima, addressed the topic in her weekly column. In the text, entitled “A Folha persegue Bolsonaro?” (Does Folha persecute Bolsonaro?), Lima stated that “Bolsonaro's unprecedented attitude [to exclude Folha from bidding] reinforces ties with his supporters, but it is not up to the position he holds”.

She also noted that, “on the part of the press, newspapers seem to have normalized the behavior of Bolsonaro and his team in the name of economic recovery. Attacks on the legal order reveal, however, that there is no economic policy that justifies complacency with arbitrariness and authoritarianism.”

Bolsonaro’s Secretary: Folha editorial is “libel against democracy”

Fábio Wajngarten, secretary of the Presidency's Social Communication, responded to Folha's editorial through an opinion article published in the newspaper itself on Monday.

In the text entitled “O infame editorial” (The infamous editorial), Wajngarten stated that Bolsonaro and "his closest staff" never departed from the primacy of freedom of expressioh and the press, which he said "guides his government's relations with the media at large."

He expressed his repudiation of Folha's “infamous, unfair and light” editorial last Friday, and called it a “libel, an undisguised pamphlet, devoid of seriousness and consistency!”

Wajngarten accused Folha of “editorial fury” against Bolsonaro since the election campaign and said that “the daily newspaper headlines about the country's economy - always with the negative focus - also show editorial bad faith, editorial levity and editorial authoritarianism of the newspaper against the government” from the current president.

In an alleged reference to the exclusion of Folha from the list of newspapers and magazines present in the presidential bid, the secretary stated that “such repeated behavior discredits Folha de S.Paulo as a source of serious information for society in general, much less how to be considered in the political and economic decision-making process.”

The secretary of Social Communication also stated that "what the newspaper editorial does is defend a conspiracy for the exit of the president, in a blow against the institutions and, mainly, against the will of the majority of Brazilians."