President Lula enjoys widespread support in Brazil, the result of a generally successful 8 years in power. But his relationship with the press has at times been strained; his occasional frustration with the media will no doubt be part of his legacy once he leaves power at the end of this year.
The president spoke out last week against the media’s alleged interference in the presidential election, as a number of scandals emerged late in the election cycle (reported by major magazines and newspapers) which could have been damaging to his chosen candidate, Dilma Rousseff. (Thus far, her polling numbers have not changed despite these reports and a few high-level resignations within the government.)
At an event over the weekend, the president called certain sectors of the media “an embarrassment.” “We will defeat certain newspapers and magazines that behave like political parties, but don’t have the courage to admit they are a political party and support a particular candidate,” he went on to say. “We don’t need creators of opinion. We are the public opinion.”
The National Newspaper Association (ANJ) as well as the Brazilian Lawyer’s Association (OAB) called the president’s statements “regrettable,” and defended the importance of a free press. One of Brazil’s main daily newspapers, O Estado de S. Paulo, was more direct in its criticism, publishing an editorial on Tuesday titled, “The Elite that Lula Can’t Stand.” Excerpts from the column are translated below:
“In the scenarios in which President Lula invariably introduces himself as the protagonist in the creation of the wonderful country we live in today, the role of antagonist is always reserved for the “elite”. For more than 500 years, the elites kept Brazil chained to the shackles of underdevelopment and to the most perverse social injustice. Then came the president, fearless, and in less than eight years everything changed. Simple as that.
“With this Manichean rhetoric, Lula shamelessly nurtures within the electorate of low income and little education – his primary target audience – the widespread feeling that those who have money and/or education are on the “other side,” in the enemy ranks. But the truth is that the champion of the destitute nurtures a genuine dislike for one, and only one, category of elite: the intellectual, formed by people who waste time reading and thus feel they have the right to critically evaluate the performance of rulers. By extension, a huge aversion to the press. With all the other elites His Excellency has solved his problems. With them, he is perfectly composed, refined, an associate, an ally….
“Lula discloses his real target every time he opens his mouth. As he did on the 18th, in Juiz de Fora [a town in Minas Gerais state]: ‘These people do not forgive us. Just look at some of the entities and newspapers in Brazil (…) Because in reality, the opposition in this country is a certain type of press. Oh, how they invent things against Lula. Look, if I depended on them to have an 80% approval in this country I would have zero. Because 90% of the good things this country is not shown [sic].’
“So this is it. Press that speaks ill of the government is worthless, and goes beyond the limits of freedom of information. It is no more than an instrument of domination by the elites….”
This debate over the role of the press is not new to Brazil, and nor will it end with this election cycle. But even in an election in which he is not running, President Lula’s relationship with the media is still managing to make headlines here.