Brazil: Was Barbon a Good Journo? Does It Matter?


Fenaj, 1946-2007. RIP. Under the 1946 Constitution, you could not vote unless you were registered with the Ministry of Labor as practicing a State-approved profession or occupation. Brazil’s banana-republican National Federation of Journalists support a dictatorship-era decree designed to keep things that way. And the horse they rode in on.

Writing for the blog Laudas Críticas, Marcello Tuffani of Consultor Jurídico follows up on the story of the journalist recently murdered in the interior of São Paulo after breaking a corruption story involving sexual predation and prostitution of minors by elected officials.

See Rural São Paulo Journalist Murdered; Outed Lurid Corruption Scheme and Brazilian Media Union: Slain Journo Was “Not a Real Journalist.”

Was the small-town journalist a real journalist?

Regardless of his official credentials, was he a good and honest journalist?

And does it matter?

If so, how much does it matter?

Mr. Tuffani confronts those issues intelligently and directly.

O repórter Marcelo Tavela, do portal Comunique-se, foi à cidade paulista de Porto Ferreira, a 230 km da capital do Estado, e obteve in loco diversas afirmações favoráveis e contrárias à forma de atuação de Luiz Carlos Barbon Filho como jornalista. Sua reportagem “Morte de Barbon mostra promiscuidade entre política e imprensa”, publicada ontem (quarta-feira, 9/5), cita acusações de venda de matérias, extorsões e relações indevidas com políticos, assim como negações dessas práticas e declarações de que ele atuava corretamente como jornalista e de que seu trabalho estava incomodando os donos do poder em sua cidade.

Reporter Marcelo Tavela of the Communique-se [“communicate!”] news portal went to the São Paulo city of Porto Ferreira, 230 km from the state capital, and obtained, in loco, various statements both favorable and unfavorable about Luiz Carlos Barbon Filho’s activity as a journalist. His report, “Death of Barbon shows promiscuity between politics and the press,” published yesterday (Wed., May 9) cites accusations of selling of articles, extortion and improper relationships with politicians, as well as denials of these practices and declarations that Barbon acted properly as a journalist and that his work was upsetting the power elite of the city.

Independentemente da necessidade de se considerar o assassinato de Barbon (ver neste blog o post anterior, “Sindicalistas desqualificam jornalista assassinado”) como um atentado à liberdade de imprensa, a iniciativa do Comunique-se é correta. A verdade sobre Barbon deve se tornar pública, doa a quem doer. No entanto, não dá para tirar uma conclusão definitiva, ainda mais com fontes como essas. Mas dá para perceber que Barbon não deve ter sido nada diferente de milhares de jornalistas devidamente registrados que atuam no país.

Regardless of whether Barbon’s murder should be regarded as an attack on freedom of the press, Communique-se’s initiative is correct. The truth about Barbon should be made public, no matter what. However, we cannot draw definitive conclusions, especially from sources like those. But we can see that Barbon may not have been any different than thousands of duly registered journalists working in Brazil.

Mesmo que tudo o que se disse de negativo sobre Barbon venha a ser comprovado, o assassinato continuará sendo um atentado à imprensa. As acusações que fazem a ele são de infrações éticas que só são passíveis de serem praticadas por quem exerce o jornalismo. Vão agora dizer que Assis Chateaubriand não era jornalista porque tinha outros negócios e achacava? Que milhares de “jornalistas responsáveis” no Brasil não são jornalistas porque alugam seus registros no MTb (hoje MTE, Ministério do Trabalho e Emprego) para donos de jornalecos vagabundos venderem matérias pagas?

Even if everything negative said about Barbon turns out to be true, the murder is still an attack on the press. The accusations against him are for ethical infractions that can only be attributed to someone who is practicing journalism in the first place. Will they now say that Assis Chateaubriand was not a journalist because he had other businesses and thought … [sic] ? That thousands of “responsible journalists” in Brazil are not journalists because they rent out their professional credibility and credentials (nowadays, their MTE identification card from the Ministry of Work and Employment) to the owners of sleazy tabloids who sell their editorial pages for advertorial purposes?

Se Barbon tivesse escapado vivo do atentado contra ele, a obrigação de toda a imprensa teria de ser a de solidariedade, mobilização pela apuração do crime e caracterização do ato como atentado à liberdade de imprensa, que é um valor que transcende a pessoa de cada jornalista. Enfim, é um atentado contra todos nós.

If Barbon had managed to survive the attack, it would be the obligation of the entire media to express solidarity, to mobilize behind a solution to the crime and to characterize it as an attack on freedom of the press, which is a value that transcends individual journalists. In short, it was an attack on all of us.

Os homens da escopeta calibre 12 e seu mandante teriam feito o que fizeram com qualquer jornalista, independentemente de registro ou diploma. A prática condenável de usar o documento da Fenaj para “dar carteirada” é eficaz em porta de boate e de estádio, mas não funciona com jagunço.

The men with the 12-gauge shotgun and the man who sent them might have done the same to any journalist, whether or not he had official credentials or a diploma. The contemptible practice of using a FENAJ credential for “rent a credential” schemes works well with nightclub bouncers or stadium security, but it doesn’t work on hired assassins.

Se tivéssemos dúvidas sobre a integridade de Barbon desde o primeiro momento, o máximo que poderíamos ter dito sobre isso em notas oficiais de entidades jornalísticas é que suspeitas sobre a forma de atuação como jornalista não tiram do assassinato o caráter de atentado à liberdade de imprensa.

If we had any doubts about Barbon’s integrity to begin with, the most we should have said about this in the official public statements of the journalism syndicates would be that suspicions about the professional conduct of a journalist do not mean that this was not an attack on freedom of the press.

É o caso, com certeza, de se apurar a verdade sobre Barbon. Mas isso não muda o que afirmou a Abraji (Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo) em sua “Nota Oficial”:

We should, of course, try to discover the truth about Barbon. But this does not cancel out what ABRAJI, the Brazilian association of investigative journalism, says in its official statement on the case:

“O fato de [a execução] ter sido realizada em local público, de modo premeditado e com extrema violência revela uma tentativa clara de intimidação da imprensa e de impedi-la de cumprir sua obrigação de relatar fatos à sociedade. Exige-se do poder público uma atuação exemplar, com rápida e criteriosa investigação, a fim de que os autores materiais e intelectuais do crime não fiquem impunes. Omitir-se nesse caso é um estímulo à repetição de crimes como esse.”

“The fact that the execution took place in a public place, in a premeditated manner and with extreme violence reveals a clear intention to intimidate the press and prevent it from fulfilling its duty to report facts to society. The authorities should be press to make an example of this case by carrying out a rigorous and prompt investigation to prevent the authors of this crime from going unpunished. Omission in this case would only encourage the repetition of such crimes.”

A Abraji reagiu com rapidez porque sabe o que está em jogo. A Fenaj (Federação Nacional dos Jornalistas) e o Sindicato dos Jornalistas Profissionais do Estado de São Paulo rapidamente desqualificaram o crime como atentado à imprensa porque sua verdadeira prioridade é a defesa da espúria regulamentação profissional pelo decreto-lei 972, de 1969, que está suspenso por liminar do Supremo Tribunal Federal.

ABRAJI reacted promptly because it knows what is at stake. FENAJ and the São Paulo journalists’ union promptly disqualifed the crime as an attack on freedom of the press because their real priority is the defense of the spurious regulation of the profession set forth in Decree-Law 972 of 1969, which has been suspended by order of the Supreme Court.

See my “Anyone Can Be A Journalist” (Nov. 21, 2006).

A liberdade de expressão propugnada por diversos documentos internacionais fundadores dos direitos e garantias fundamentais do cidadão implica também a liberdade de informar (e não estou dizendo “opinar”) e de ter seus próprios meios para fazê-lo. Ninguém pode ser obrigado a esperar por quatro anos para poder exercer essa liberdade se sente a necessidade de fazê-lo em sua comunidade e não encontra canais para isso. Mas a sociedade deve cobrar a forma como essa pessoa vai atuar. E é por isso que existem diversas formas de regulamentação profissional não cerceadoras.

Freedom of the press, as defined in a number of international documents that establish fundamental rights and guarantees of the citizen, also implies freedom to inform (and not merely “freedom of opinion”) and to have his or her own means for doing so. No one can be obliged to wait four years in order to be able to exercise this freedom if they feel an urgent need to do so in their own community and find immediate outlets for doing it. Certainly, society must demand that such persons act properly. And it is for this reason that various forms of regulation of the profession, which do not limit these fundmental rights, exist.

Não estou aqui defendendo o tal do “jornalismo cidadão” nem outras práticas informativas que estão surgindo em decorrência das facilidades trazidas pela internet e pelas novas tecnologias. Isso, assim como muita coisa que vem sendo feita até mesmo por jornalistas profissionais, não tem nada a ver com a função de de mediação, apuração e checagem sob o ethos do jornalismo. “Jornalista cidadão” pode e deve ter seu canal de expressão, mas não é nada mais que um novo tipo de fonte. Se exercer sua atividade sob as condições exigidas pelo ethos de nossa profissão, deverá ser considerado jornalista.

I am not here defending that so-called “citizen journalism” or other informational practices that are emerging as a consequences of the convenience that the Internet and new technologies have brought. This, like many practices that even professional journalists are engaging in, has nothing to do with the function of mediating, investigating and fact-checking under the canons of journalistic ethics. “Citizen journalism” can and should have its own channel of expression, but it is nothing more than a new kind of journalistic source. If it is exercised in accordance with professional standards, then it ought to be considered journalism, plain and simple.

Hear, hear. This is brilliantly argued.

Completamente alheia à realidade da profissão no mundo, nossa “categoria” permanece em uma situação análoga à da alegoria da caverna, de Platão, no Livro VII de sua obra A República: aquele que se liberta das amarras que o obrigavam a imaginar as sombras como realidade e sai da caverna, é imediatamente ofuscado pela luz do sol. Mas, se mantiver os olhos abertos, irá se acostumar com a claridade. Ao voltar para a caverna, preocupado com os antigos companheiros de infortúnio, e contar a todos sobre o que viu, suas palavras não serão compreendidas e o farão correr o risco de ser morto por eles.

Completely apart from the real-world situation of our profession, our “category” remains in a situation analogous to Plato’s “allegory of the cave,” in Book VII of The Republic: …

Yes, we have heard more than enough about that allegory from the Straussians and the Ayn Rand Appreciation Society over the years.

I prefer the Meno and the Crito, myself — and the Sophist and Symposium, for that matter — if we must try to distill positive doctrine out of the dramatic ironies of Platonic dialogue — which I think is a fundamental and not very creative misprision.

Como bem diz meu tio Celso Tuffani, “em terra de cego, quem tem um olho é morto a bengaladas”.

As my uncle Celso Tuffani used to say, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man gets caned to death.”

Good old Uncle Celso. Always good for a larf.

É essa mesma cegueira que faz a Fenaj e o sindicato paulista deixar de considerar o assassinato de Barbon como um atentado à imprensa. Enquanto isso, entidades jornalísticas internacionais, como o CPJ (Comitê de Proteção de Jornalistas) e Repórteres sem Fronteiras, posicionam-se oficialmente pela cobrança da ação das autoridades na apuração desse crime.

It is this same kind of blindness that led FENAJ and the Sâo Paulo union to deny that Barbon’s murder was not an attack on the press. In the meantime, international journalism bodies such as the CPJ and Reporters Without Borders have taken an official position demanding actoin from authorities to solve this crime.

Por tudo isso e pelo que tenho dito anteriormente, a nota oficial da Fenaj e do sindicato paulista merece repúdio. E, o que é mais importante, a mobilização em torno desse atentado contra a imprensa precisa ser mantida.

For all these reasons, and for what I said previously, the statements by FENAJ and the Sâo Paulo journalists’ union should be repudiated. And what is more important, the mobilization around this attack on the press must be kept up.

Very well then.

I again repudiate it.

I am still mobilized.

Another problem, I think, is that bogus, “boy who cried wolf” accusations of “attacks on freedom of the press” are the stock in trade of media owners and pelego journalism unions alike, in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America.

We need only think of the campaign in support of RCTV in Venezuela to see this nonsense in action. See Banana-Republican Fact-Check: CNN Español and RCTV.

What is at stake in that case is not the working conditions of journalists, but the commercial interests of media owners.

In Brazil, meanwhile, we are subjected to the notion from time to time that the current government suffers from “authoritarian temptations” with regard to the media and press. The case of Larry Rohter is paradigmatic in this regard. And see also “Não É Bem Assim”: Fact-Checking Globo’s Censorship Claim.

But whether you support the Lulist tendency or not — I have friends and respected colleagues on all sides of that issue, I can proudly say — I think you cannot fairly say that they have been irresponsible or incoherent on this point.

Even if venial little Lacerdist troglodytes like Mainardi and Azevedo have tried.

See For Marco Aurélio, A Golden Moment, for example, in which the interim president of the PT makes this point rather clearly and eloquently.

I, for example, found Rede Globo’s news coverage of the attack by military police on the International Women’s Day protest on the Av. Paulista unforgiveably slanted and mendacious.

See “Violent Protest Marks Arrival of Bush”: Veja x The Uninterviewed Eyewitness.

But I absolutely do not condone physical assaults by a handful of rioters on Rede Globo cars and equipment on the avenue that day.

The people who did that nonsense clearly ought to be in jail.

Unfortunately, the PM were too busy delivering a jackboot to the brisket of anyone they could lay their hands on to see who did it, and arrest them.

They were too busy firing indiscriminately into a crowd of people with no involvement in criminal acts at all, to actually dispense justice and protect citizens — including journalists on the scene — in an effective and controlled manner.

Still, this is the same kind of truculence of which RCTV reporters in the field complain of in Venezuela — and the same kind of blind hatred for a biased and servile press, in fact, documented by venerable Globo reporter Caco Barcellos in his book Rota 66.

Attending the funeral of a victim of PM violence, Barcellos is nearly the victim of violence himself at the hands of funeral-goers because of his association with Globo — even though he is working, on his own time and dime, to expose police corruption and criminality that his employer refuses to cover.

He does not deserve to be treated in this way, but as a Globo reporter, he is tarred with the same tawdry brush.

This is a crucial point: the corrupt meddling of media owners in the editorial independence of their journalism staff creates a reputational quagmire that affects rank-and-file journalists personally and professionally.

It can even put them at physical risk.

That is why I try to be careful, for example, to point out that while Folha de S. Paulo editorial management has perpetrated some nasty and mendacious ethical abuses — the infamous puta sacanagem case was absolutely unforgiveable — it also fields some very competent, courageous and ethically uncompromised journalists.

See Folha in a Finer Hour: Judging Judges Judging Judges for only one of many examples.

The fact is that Brazil has many journalists who do yeoman service, so long as their bosses let them have their head rather than micromanaging their reporting — as Globo executives did during last year’s elections, according to Rodrigo Vianna, formerly of Globo TV São Paulo.

Whom I find much more credible, by the way, than his former boss, Latgé.

All the more so because to be frank, I really do not find Vianna or his notions of good journalism all that sympathetic, personally.

But when he invokes a minimal standard of decent, responsible reporting, I have to stand up for him.

The same way I have to grudgingly admit, for example, that the tabloid New York Daily News here in New York does at least minimally toe the ethical line most of the time.

As skeevy as I may find Mort Zuckerman, he is, at least, no Rupert Murdoch — or Global Voices Online.

Forced to choose between Murdoch’s Post — which I have caught bullshitting me and lying to me — and Zuckerman’s Daily News — which will sometimes try to rouse my rabble, but rarely tries to get me to believe in the existence of nonexistent facts — I chose the News.

Until my confidence is betrayed, that is.

In which case you need to work to win me back.

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