In the 100 years that it ends on Friday (19), Folha has resisted all kinds of obstacles to independent journalism. Like most Brazilian media, the newspaper faces the most risky moment for press freedom since the end of our last dictatorship in 1985.
Censorship today dispenses with men in olive-green uniforms, and blows against contemporary democracy can do without tanks. It is also more insidious censorship, thanks to the digital revolution and the decentralization of information sources.
Around the world, we have seen an increase in the number of autocrats installed in power through the ballot box in legitimate – Bolsonaro, Trump – or fraudulent – Ordinance, Putin elections.
The polling station autocrats have, in addition to poor governance, a clear agenda. Its strategy is to increase the cost of practicing journalism. The systematic attack on companies and individuals, like our award-winning Patrícia Campos Mello, is the first front of the war to overcome the rule of facts as a public square that everyone shares.
Turning journalists into news is an effective tactic for making solid news coverage difficult. But it is far from original. After all, variations of the phrase “shoot the messenger” have been in use since ancient times, when the bad news did not come through WhatsApp but by the wearer who risked angering monarchs and generals on the battlefield.
Journalists are easy and unifying targets. The autocrat who cannot control a pandemic stands to gain by constantly throwing smokescreens and pointing at the messenger. It is only in a society that is losing faith in medical scientific facts that they are prescribing chloroquine for the coronavirus without being revoked by medical advice.
The freedom that is the oxygen of journalism is opposed to the freedom that the autocrat seeks. To remain unpunished in power, he must free himself from the facts and convince his supporters that he is the victim of anyone who insists on going against him.
In 2002, shortly before lying to the world to justify the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, the administration of George Bush the son offered a glimpse of contemporary post-truth.
An aide to the ex-president then told journalist Ron Suskind that professionals like him were “people from the reality community.” Puzzled, Suskind muttered something like a defense of the Enlightenment and the advisor sent back, “The world doesn’t work like that anymore.” When we act, we create our own reality ”.
It took a decadent reality TV host to get to the White House and then be emulated by a decadent ex-captain to gauge the risk we face, inside or outside of Centennial Folha.
At the start of Donald Trump’s term, I spoke with historian Timothy Snyder, author of the book-manifesto “Against Tyranny”. I asked him if the American press was less immune to the authoritarian impulse of the new president.
Snyder said yes. In Brazil, he argued, you have the freshest memories of authoritarianism. Folha begins her second century under the constant challenge of denying the words heard by journalist Ron Suskind. But, perhaps, with the benefit of memory antibodies from what you’ve already faced.
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