Respect for those killed in national tragedies is one of the most noble and supreme prerogatives of the Head of State. To show Americans the difference between a statesman and Donald Trump, Joseph Biden organized his entire election campaign around a tribute to the victims of the pandemic. Many of their activities were limited to finding families to share their suffering. On the eve of his inauguration, he retired, in a serious and sober ceremony, in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
After the publication of the moving open letter of a bereaved citizen in January 2021 and the associative demonstrations, Emmanuel Macron instituted a long process of national mourning. Last week, the Assembly granted the victims of the pandemic the status of “death in the service of the Republic”, which paves the way for various compensations to family members.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had the important idea of organizing five days of mourning for the victims of the pandemic and gender-based violence. One way to link the health disaster to the social drama that is raging in the country. Even Mexican President López Obrador, a notorious denier, declared three days of official mourning in November.
Brazil does not have a President of the Republic in the symbolic sense of the function. The motorcycle rides, the barbarities pronounced at the door of the Planalto Palace and the provocations on social networks are repeated manifestations of contempt for the suffering of the nation. Its citizens, its political allies and even the men of “their” army are buried without the honors of the state. Its supporters have become known for demonstrating in front of hospitals, a practice so morbid that it leaves international observers in disbelief.
In the absence of a president to organize emotional life, national newspapers and television have assumed a vital role in pandemic society. Around the same time last year, I even said in this column that the Jornal Nacional presenters were working in place of the president.
Against this background, the lax coverage of this weekend’s protests by some media is questionable to say the least. Each group that sent a reporter will surely have noticed that the procession had the soul of a funeral march. The meeting was, in essence, a collective gathering, during which widows or orphans could write the obituaries of their loved ones on posters. Where traumatized citizens were able, for the first time in a year, to assert their freedom of expression outside of digital confinement.
Often, those who criticize media coverage ignore the complexity of the news of a major newspaper or television station. But it is difficult to justify the omission of the ceremonial dimension of the political demonstration on Saturday (29). The media that intensely followed the suffering of Brazilians during the pandemic, but chose to give the protest little importance, did more than deprive their audiences of important information. They made an editorial mistake: they couldn’t distinguish mourning from protest.
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