Tag Archives: media reform

Movements Against Corruption Afoot in Brazil

6 Sep

The performance of Brazil’s Congress, and particularly the governing coalition makes one wonder whether the nation’s deliberative process should be moved somewhere else— far away from the alleged ‘representatives of the people.’ Congress is where the government’s coalition ‘allies’ select their robber baron cabinet ministers, the same ones that have been resigning one after the next in the wake of President Dilma Rousseff’s spring cleaning. Yet despite the rash of corruption scandals over the past months, and one particularly egregious ‘secret vote’ that recently absolved a deputy of grand corruption charges, a few bright spots have begun to appear. These include a parliamentary movement against corruption and a September 7th “March Against Corruption” in support of President Rousseff’s efforts to purge Brasilia.

The Super-Party Front Against Corruption

Senator Pedro Simon

A group of parliamentarians led by Senator Pedro Simon (PMDB) have announced the creation of a “Super-Party Front Against Corruption.” The movement supports the faxina or cleaning that began shortly after President Rousseff took power.  According to the Jornal Globo, Simon asks that the President, “dialogue with us, chat, sit together to find a solution.” Simon’s plea does not sound like unconditional support for the fight against corruption, but rather a return to the amiguismo and ‘consensus impunity’ status quo. But at least the establishment of a ‘front’ against corruption is a promising sign that incentives are moving in the right direction.

Can Electoral Rewards for Ethical Behavior Change Congress?

One Deputy reinforces the idea that incentives to prioritize ethics do exist. Deputy  Jose Reguffe, a 38 year-old Deputy from Brasilia, is an ethical crusader who gave up half his staff, his complete travel allowance, and part of his ‘extra’ salary, because he’d rather save public money than receive funds he claims he doesn’t need. In proportional terms, Reguffe won more votes than any other member of Congress (266.5K), and with very little campaign money. The clear inference is that Brazilians reward honesty and ethical behavior. Although perhaps not the most novel conclusion for readers used to seeing dishonest behavior punished, it is highly significant for a country where assumed or proven dishonesty often has little bearing on election results or political support more generally.

Unchecked Impunity

Bribe-Taker, Roriz

Last week’s secret vote in the Lower House, which successfully absolved Deputy Jaqueline Roriz of corruption charges, provides a point-in-case of the sort of impunity that has long muddied the reputation of Congress. In 2006 Roriz was caught red-handed on tape accepting a bribe of R$50,000 (US$33,000) in public money. Yet deputies justified the 235-166 vote in favor of absolution by claiming that Roriz had not yet been vested as a federal deputy when the film was shot—  instead she was a state deputy at the time. The fact that a proven thief of public money continues to pose as a public servant seems to have escaped Congress’ sense of higher justice, much less its sense of irony. Irony of ironies, the ‘representatives of the people’ employed a very unrepresentative institutional mechanism –the ‘secret parliamentary vote’ – to endorse another desolating setback for parliament.

The March Against Corruption

But there is increasing movement against corruption and impunity. Tomorrow is Brazilian Independence Day, the 7th of September, and marches against corruption are set to take place across Brazil. The movement, simply called the “March Against Corruption” (marcha contra a corrupção) has been quietly accumulating supporters through social media, including Youtube (and here) and Facebook.

Organization against corruption is a positive step forward. As I wrote about a couple of posts ago, Brazilians have a reputation for passivity in the face of injustice. Yet it remains to be seen whether the March will prove little more than a fleeting protest. Discouragingly, the mainstream media has been providing very little coverage of the event.

The hands-off approach of the media makes perfect sense, however; zealous coverage of recent corruption scandals has led government to once more brandish the ‘media reform’ card. In the wake of the government’s efforts to purge corruption from federal ministries, especially those most involved in preparations for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics,  it seems the strategy is now to use the media as a scapegoat. This is the media’s cue to play nice. Stay tuned.

The Threat of Media Reform as Effective Media Control

9 Jan

Your party will win the next election and you want to make sure the media keeps providing you with reliably un-critical if not favorable coverage– here is your media strategy: you promise to change the regulatory status quo of the media before the election, and you renege on the proposed reform following your victory. The media behaves with deference for fear of reform, and treats you favorably once entreaties by media lobbyists to “delay” reform are met.

On December 20th 2010 President Lula asked the party’s National Executive Committee to dedicate itself to three efforts: media and communication reform, political reform (writ large, apparently), and youth programs. Before and during her election campaign, President-elect Dilma Rousseff echoed Lula’s long-held promise to reform the media, especially the electronic media.

The influence of the country’s most popular television station, Globo, is legendary: it is third largest in the world by audience numbers, only surpassed by NBC and CBS in the much larger U.S. market. Globo is a media juggernaut, exerting incalculable influence over the country’s politics and political culture. It controls large holdings in radio, newsprint, and broadband, among other interests.

On January 6th 2011, Rousseff and her Secretary of Social Communication, Paulo Bernardo, reneged on their party’s promise to introduce reform. Instead, they will “open it up for public discussion” (front page and page 15 of Jornal Globo– e.g.).

Media reform–or the threat thereof–hangs like a damocles sword over the media in any country. The promise of media reform is an age-old political trick designed to cow the media into relative submission. The promise of media reform is perhaps the most effective means of ensuring favorable or moderately un-critical coverage.

There are normative and economic lines of reasoning for media’s aversion to reform. First, reform can potentially restrict the liberty of expression. For example, “ethics” councils might be established, presiding over what content is and is not permissible. Reform also changes the economic equilibrium. Under the old rules, media firms learn to “optimize the utility” of regulation. Introducing new rules imposes transaction costs. Reform may, for example, limit ownership in certain sectors, or rules prohibit one-firm from owning radio, television and print interests within one geographic region.

The promise of media reform can explain why media owners may back-off certain delicate topics. It certainly provides one explanation for why the news media has been so reluctant to cover access to public information reform.