'We intend to make very clear what is public journalism and what is government information,' said Hélio Doyle, president of Brazil’s Public Communication Company (EBC)

The reconstruction of Brazil’s Public Communication Company (EBC, by its Portuguese acronym) is one of the promises made by the current government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who created the state-owned company during his second term, in 2008. Appointed president of the EBC on Feb. 13, journalist Hélio Doyle was assigned to lead the reconstruction of the company responsible for public communication in the country, after six years of its dismantling and censorship under the governments of Michel Temer (2016-2018) and Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022).

"The EBC is a state-owned company, but its focus is public communication, and that's what we want: To produce impartial, quality communication, independent of the government. And journalism will naturally be a flagship in this sense," Doyle told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR).

EBC manages federal radio and television stations and an online news agency, Agência Brasil. According to Doyle, the priority of the new management will be to reestablish the separation between public and governmental communication.

Man in a TV studio

Hélio Doyle, atual presidente da EBC. Foto: Joedson Alves/Agência Brasil

"We see the EBC as the great instrument we have to produce quality public communication that really reaches people, that provides a public service. In the case of journalism, we intend to make very clear what is public journalism and what is government information," he said. This will be done by separating the company's channels dedicated to public communication and government communication, he explained.

In April 2019, the Bolsonaro government merged the two EBC TV channels: TV Brasil, the public broadcaster, and TV NBr, dedicated to government communication. The effect of this measure was the hijacking of public communication by government communication, with frequent interruptions of public TV programming to air government events featuring Bolsonaro. These insertions took up almost 193 hours of TV Brasil between August 2021 and July 2022, according to the 4th Dossier on Censorship and Governmentalism at EBC, carried out by the EBC Employees Commission and by the Journalists' and Broadcasters' Unions of Distrito Federal, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo.

In addition, benevolent coverage of government acts and friendly interviews with then-ministers and other government authorities on TV Brasil programs have become the rule, according to a report by the magazine piauí published in May 2022.

In the current government, the EBC Citizen Ombudsman, a group formed in 2020 by employees and supporters of the state-owned company dedicated to analyzing the content broadcast by the company's channels, recorded that on more than one occasion in January the programming of TV Brasil was interrupted to air events featuring President Lula.

"From the moment that we have two active channels, clearly identified as public TV and government TV, this will no longer happen," Doyle said, adding that these episodes took place before his appointment as EBC president.

"What is still happening, while we have not yet implemented the new system, is that in some very special circumstances the programming of TV Brasil may be interrupted by important government information or a statement by the president. But not the way it was done [in January]. It would be programmed, the viewer would be warned that this is going to happen and that the programming will be resumed soon after. But it is happening less and less. We are avoiding it as much as possible. And it won't be like this in the future. Now, we are not able to make these changes overnight. We are working on it and some noise [miscommunication] may still happen," he justified.

The new EBC management is currently working on new programming grids for public TV and government TV. It is also discussing new names and visual identities for the two channels, Doyle said. The estimate, according to him, is that the changes explaining the division between the two communication modalities produced by EBC on TV, radio and Agência Brasil should air between the second half of April and the second half of May.

“No censorship nor forbidden topics”

Doyle is a journalist who began his career in 1967, according to the Jota website. He has worked in national and regional media such as Correio Braziliense, O Estado de S. Paulo, Folha de S. Paulo, Rede Globo, Veja, IstoÉ, and Jornal do Brasil, among others. He was also a professor teaching a Communication course at the University of Brasília (UnB) and held several public offices, especially in the Federal District's government, in Brasília, where he served as Secretary of Government, of the Civil House and of the Institutional Articulation Cabinet.

According to him, journalism on EBC's public channels will be dedicated to "approaching mainly the most pressing topics in society today and that are not covered to the same extent by private broadcasters." He said that "we want to deal with current issues such as the environment, science and technology, diversity, human rights, minority rights, education, and health. These are issues we consider to be part of the list of concerns of public communication," he said.

However, in government channels, "the journalism we intend to do is also serious journalism," he said, citing the Brasilia Agency, created when he was chief secretary of the Civil House of the Federal District government.

"A government information agency is not an advertising agency. It is a journalistic agency, which provides information within the canons of journalism to be accessible by anyone and by newspapers, magazines, television, radio, blogs, websites, etc. So it has to be true. It's not propaganda, it's journalism," he underlined, citing as an example the need fact-check a government announcement.

"For example: If a minister wants to publicize a program that according to the ministry will benefit X million people, using so many resources. If we want to do journalism, we have to check this information, even if it comes from a government agency: 'Is this really true? Is this program really going to benefit so many millions of people? Is the budget of this program the one that is being announced or is this a projection for five years from now?' The journalist cannot simply pass on information, even if it is from a government channel. He has to check the information," he said.

This separation between public journalism and government journalism will also occur in the new structure of the company, which should go into effect between the end of March and the beginning of April, according to him.

"In the new structure, the Journalism Department will no longer exist. We will have a Public Communication Department and a Communication Services Department. Flávia [Filipini, current chief advisor at EBC] will be the director of Communication Services, which will be the government branch of EBC, and the Public Communication Department will have an executive manager for journalism. So journalism will be divided in two: there will be journalism in public communication and there will be journalism in government communication," he explained.

One of the most serious issues regarding the journalism produced by EBC under the Bolsonaro government were the hundreds of reports of censorship by the company's journalists. The 4th Dossier on Censorship and Governmentism in the EBC counted 292 cases of censorship and governmentism - the imposition of the government's perspective - in the company's media between August 2021 and July 2022.

"The past is gone, and there is a new president [in Brazil] and a new board of directors at EBC," Doyle said when asked about this situation. "It’s obvious that there is no censorship or forbidden topic. Each case is evaluated editorially by the newsroom" of each news outlet, he said.

"Little by little we will define an editorial line, as each news outlet has its own editorial line. Editing is a selection process. It is impossible to report everything that happens. What we will establish are clear criteria in this editorial line, in the editing process. We will never have censorship or forbidden topics. Obviously, we’ll follow basic principles of citizenship. But, as for some clouds that sometimes appear, some gray areas, we will define them over time," he said.