Bolsonaro removes obligation of government agencies to publish public notices in Brazilian print newspapers

In yet another action that threatens the financial health of Brazil's print newspapers, President Jair Bolsonaro issued a provisional measure (MP, for its initials in Portuguese) that relieves government agencies from the obligation to publish bidding and auction notices in print newspapers.

The measure applies to all public agencies of the federal, state and municipal governments. From now on, publication of the notices on the Internet and in official journals is enough. The text of the provisional measure still makes it clear that the new rules meet "the legal requirement for the federal public administration to publish its acts in print newspapers.”

The new rule comes just over a month after Bolsonaro signed another MP that ended the obligation for private companies to publish their balance sheets in print newspapers. At the time, the Brazilian president indicated that the measure was retaliation toward the newspaper Valor Econômico, as highlighted by BuzzFeed. The journal, specializing in economics and business, is edited by Grupo Globo and serves as a destination for the publication of balance sheets of many large companies in the country.

“What I want, what I need from the press, is the truth. I want the press to sell the truth to the Brazilian people and not to do partisan politics as some press organizations have been doing,” Bolsonaro said, according to BuzzFeed. "I hope Valor Econômico will survive yesterday's Provisional Measure."

This time, however, the president has not commented on the edition of the new MP. He is recovering from hernia repair surgery as a result of the stab wound he suffered during last year's election campaign.

However, this MP may have an even worse result for print newspaper revenues. For journalist Breno Costa, who publishes the newsletter Brasil Real Oficial and specializes in monitoring government measures, the new MP is more serious for newspapers because “[companies] can still publish [their balance sheets] if they please. In the case of the government, there is no alternative but to follow the limits of what is in the law,” he wrote on Twitter.

The National Association of Newspapers (ANJ), which represents the companies that publish print newspapers in Brazil, issued a note in which it considered that the MP "is another government initiative to weaken journalistic activity by hitting newspapers financially."

ANJ recalls that the “publication of notices in print newspapers is the subject of debate in Congress, where a bill to reform bidding legislation is being discussed,” which reinforces the “unnecessary [character] [of a] provisional measure on the subject." For the ANJ, "the President of the Republic infringes on the Parliament."

The association said it is studying legal measures against the MP and said that this act "seeks to weaken journalistic activity, especially hitting small and medium newspapers in the interior of the country, where the so-called news deserts are already forming."

Bolsonaro entre Edir Macedo (RecordTV) e Silvio Santos (SBT) durante comemoração do 7 de Setembro em Brasília. Foto: Alan Santos/Presidência da República

Bolsonaro between Edir Macedo (RecordTV) and Silvio Santos (SBT) during the Brazilian independence day celebration in Brasilia. (Photo: Alan Santos/Presidência da República)

Next target: TV advertising

If the two provisional measures dealing with the publication of company balance sheets and government notices directly affect print newspaper finances, Bolsonaro's next move could fall like a bomb on the TV advertising market.

He has already signaled that he intends to issue an MP to change the rules of the so-called “volume bonus.” The bonus is a kind of incentive paid to advertising agencies by TV stations as a compensation for buying advertising space, as UOL explains. TV Globo, which has the largest audience on Brazilian broadcast TV, uses the bonus to guarantee even more advertising revenue, which is a reason for complaints from other broadcasters, as reported by journalist Ricardo Feltrin, who specializes in media, also at UOL. As Meio & Message reminds, “the practice of volume bonus (BV) [...] governs the national advertising market.”

Recently, in an interview with Folha de S. Paulo, Bolsonaro said he could issue a provisional measure to change the volume bonus rules, because "for the president, a bill will not go so fast in Congress." Still according to Folha, the president "threatens to re-issue the MP every year of his government. The target of the measure is Grupo Globo, according to Bolsonaro.”

The company collects most of the country's advertising dollars and, according to critics, uses the volume bonus to further expand its market share, Folha reported in January in a detailed report on the issue; The mechanism also favors other TV stations over other media, such as newspapers and radio.

During his campaign and since the beginning of his government, Bolsonaro has attacked news coverage, and has TV Globo as one of his priority targets. At the same time, he has gotten close to other broadcasters, such as SBT, of businessman Silvio Santos, and RecordTV, of Edir Macedo, also the leader of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. The two were with Bolsonaro on stage at the Independence Day celebration on Sept. 7 in Brasilia.

Both broadcasters have been favored by the President's communications team in disclosing public policy and giving exclusive interviews with members of the government, especially the President. At the same time, more critical voices are drowned out. In June, RecordTV dismissed veteran journalist Paulo Henrique Amorim from anchoring the weekly Domingo Espetacular (he had a heart attack and died days later). Rachel Sheherazade left as anchor of SBT Brazil, the station’s main newscast, on Fridays after criticizing the government.

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