The attempt to gag Brazil’s state broadcaster


Barely four months since an interim government replaced Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, the all-white, all-male cabinet moved quickly to assert its power by scrapping the ministries of Racial Equality, Human Rights and Women’s Rights.

Now, the state broadcaster is in the crosshairs.

The government of President Michel Temer, the former vice-president, has faced widespread protests, some of which have been violently repressed by police. Widely criticised for abandoning the democratically elected government program, he invited to his staff eight politicians investigated by the ‘Car-Wash’ kickback scandal.

Though Rousseff was elected in 2014 with 54.5 million votes, she was ultimately relieved of her duties by 61 senators on 31 August. Rousseff’s opponents, who had been working on the impeachment procedure since losing the election, counted on commercial media outlets to accuse, try and judge the country’s first female president.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that the state broadcaster became a target.

On the day the interim government took office on 12 May, it overhauled the structure of the federal government. In addition to eliminating a number of ministries, Temer fired Ricardo de Melo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the national public broadcaster Brazil Communication Company (Empresa Brasil de Comunicação – EBC).

De Melo’s peers had elected him in accordance with the company’s statute, so Supreme Court Judge Dias Toffoli granted an injunction keeping de Melo on the job. Still, on 2 September, the government fired him again by means of Provisional Measure (PM) 744/2016.

The measure also altered the EBC’s statute to allow the presidency to appoint the company’s chief executive, prompting Toffoli to withdraw his injunction. Additionally, the company’s Curating Council – responsible for government oversight and for assuring public participation – was eliminated.

“The PM is terrible,’’ says Jonas Valente, an EBC journalist and president of the Federal District’s Professional Journalists Union (Sindicato dos Jornalistas Profissionais do Distrito Federal – SJPDF). “It takes away the two principal mechanisms that assure the company’s public nature: the Council and the CEO’s mandate. This frontally attacks participation and autonomy, turning the EBC into a governmental company.”

Brazil’s federal constitution, approved in 1988 after 21 years of military dictatorship, demands the existence of a public communication system. Yet it was only in 2008, 30 years later, that Congress passed Law nº 11.652 to create the EBC.

“Along with it, the Curating Council was established to defend public principles and to assure the company maintain a public interest approach instead of a commercial or a governmental one. These principles include regionality, diversity, pluralism and accessibility,” explains Rita Freire, President of EBC’s Curating Council.

She also points out that as soon as the government appointed a new CEO, he suspended every program that featured debates, analysis or critical thinking.

And, according to the SJPDF, the company’s budged suffered a R$ 170 million (US$52.3 million) cut, alongside a R$ 1 billion (US$307.6 million) cut to the federal fund that supports it.

“Workers are being persecuted for their personal beliefs. We must prioritise transparent and democratic selection processes that respect clear criteria,” proposes Valente.

The EBC workers, gathered in a national assembly on 4 September, issued a motion against the Provisional Measure, the budget cuts and the political persecutions.

“We defend the EBC as by law and the autonomy of the public broadcast system as well as the immediate reinstatement of the Curating Council…tuned in with the most consecrated models of public media worldwide,” reads the document. They are also pressuring elected representatives to bar the measure.

Congress could still reject the PM and reaffirm the EBC’s public nature, but Freire believes it will be a tough battle, since the majority of the legislative power currently aligns itself with the government.

“This Council was appointed by Brazilian society, and not by a government, to defend the public interest. And that is what we’ll do.”