“Jornal Nacional: The News Makes History”

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The style is that of panegyric: In praise of a great project that progresses from victory to victory, without retreat, without error. Changes in management, for example, are invariably narrated as bringing continuity and improvement, never as changes of course. All of the tensions inherent in that process are eliminated. The result reminds one of the official history one reads in textbooks, designed more to inspire civic feeling than to provide historical understanding, and preaching the illusion of a nation without conflicts. –Luis Felipe Miguel

I have noted with interest the growing effort here in Brazil to publish scholarly research in English translation — this is, after all, one of my own lines of work, as an editorial ronin.

More recently, I noted with particular interest the online archives of Brazilian Journalism Research, which uses the technology platform, and subscribes to the principles, of the admirable Public Knowledge Project.

Many of the virtues of Brazilian media scholarship are on display here — see, for example, Brazil: Recent Notes of a Rohter Decoder — and many of its peculiar vices as well.

As an example of the latter, the following book review by UFRJ professor Beatriz Becker takes, I think, an astonishingly uncritical and unscholarly approach to a recently published mass-market history of TV Globo’s Jornal Nacional.

Bent on reading up in the scholarly literature on the subject myself recently, I noted the review with interest, but found upon reading it that I might as well have been reading the dust-jacket blurb.

Why, I found myself asking, am I reading a consumer-oriented review of a consumer-oriented title in an academic journal?

This nagging sense of genre dysphoria might be explained by the fact that the professor’s career as a practicing journalist includes a fair amount of time spent working for the network, and that she maintains institutional ties with it to the present day.

A fact not disclosed in the professional biography accompanying the review.

From her current CV, under the heading “Rede Globo de Televisão”:

2006 – 2006 Vínculo: Colaborador; Enquadramento Funcional: sem enquadramento. Participação da produção dos telejornais locais como editora de reportagens para observação da rotina produtiva e sistematização de conhecimentos para Pesquisa e colaboração com a produção dos mesmos.

2006: Contributor … Participated in the production of local news programs as an editor in order to observe the production process and the systematization of knowledge for purposes of research and collaboration with the production of the same.

1986 – 1989 Vínculo: Livre, Enquadramento Funcional: Repórter, Carga horária: 40. Outras informações : Repórter dos programas jornalísticos: Jornal da Globo, Hoje, Fantástico, RJ-TV e a Palavra é Sua. Também foi apresentadora dos boletins especiais sobre o festival Free Jazz in Concert realizado no Hotel Nacional-RJ

1986-1989 … Reporter, full-time … for the Jornal da Globo, Hoje, Fantástico, RJ-TV and A Palavra é Sua. …

From the review in question, followed by an excerpt from a more useful and genre-appropriate review by Luis Felipe Miguel of the University of Brasília.

The Jornal Nacional, which is aired during prime-time, is Globo’s most important national newscast. It is watched daily by 31 million people in Brazil and it is well-known internationally. Its coverage of the most important facts in Brazilian history has been subject both to criticism and applaud [sic].

The journal suffers from bad translation, but this is not, of course, a defect it can be blamed for. Budgets are tight. Affordable, quality translation talent is hard to come by. English-language instruction here tends to be pretty bad, in general, hampered by a serious lack of opportunity for the immersion experience essential to really mastering a language.

Some coverage elicited a sharp public discussion [sic] such as the regional elections in Rio de Janeiro and the Proconsult case in 1982; the movement for free national elections, particularly the popular open assembly at the Sé Square in São Paulo in 1984, in conjunction with the celebration of the city’s 430 Anniversary. The biased editing of the presidential debate between candidates Lula and Collor clearly favoring the government’s favorite in 1989 was also a source of public argument as well as the overstated report on the birth of TV host Xuxa’s baby girl named Sacha, in 1998, which took ten minutes of prime time while the coverage of important public auctions of telecom carriers Telebrás and Telesp that would take place the following day lasted only four minutes.

Examples can be multiplied, and enough very recent examples cited — torn from the headlines! — to make one very, very skeptical about the following blanket assertion:

Apart from its controversial coverage of certain events, The Jornal Nacional has improved its performance and has found its way to establish credibility and to improve social responsibility in television journalism.

It has?

That is, it seems, the thesis of the book itself, but I was rather hoping for critical perspective rather than a grade-school book report designed as a simple demonstration of reading comprehension.

I mean, I have watched the Jornal Nacional quite a bit myself over the last 7 or 8 years, and have found it simply and astonishingly incredible often enough that I no longer regularly watch it.

The recent release Jornal Nacional, a notícia faz história (Jornal Nacional, the news as history) was the result of five years of research by the so-called Globo Memory, a project of the Globo Communication Network, published by Jorge Zahar Editor.

This is a mistranslation of Jornal Nacional: The News Makes History.

The publisher in question has rendered a great service, I am noticing, to the Brazilian reader by offering a Portuguese edition of The Evolution of Useful Things. A personal favorite.

The book reviews how the most important TV newscast in the country transmitted the most important facts of our history over the past three and a half decades, gathering over a thousand interviews of its leading figures. The book includes a CD with 14 special series and 63 screen records, a chat with the main telecasters and a making-of of its own production, in addition to 420 photographs and illustrations that are part of this significant work …

Globo tends to put a lot of effort into producing a lot of “making of” regardings its own productions. Sometimes extending to “the making of the making of” and so on. Globo journalism being best described as something of a hall of (carnival) mirrors, or Fountain of Narcissus. See

And the rest is pretty much product description, in the style of catalog copy.

Prof. Miguel’s review seems to understand a little better what the target audience of an academic journal expects out of a book review.

That is, it actually works at the task that any academic book reviewer would set for themselves in approaching the crucial question here: How credible and objective can a scholarly history of a broadcasting company be when it is produced (and then, apparently, reviewed) by employees of the same?

How well can a “scholarly” project withstand the will to autohagiography of the Maecenas who underwrites it?

Not very well, according to this reviewer.

Após investimentos desastrados, como a tentativa de expansão internacional (com a TV Monte Carlo) e a aposta exagerada no potencial da TV por assinatura, o conglomerado se encontra bastante endividado (embora a televisão aberta continue lucrativa). Além disso, a recente abertura do mercado de mídia ao capital estrangeiro pode trazer ao país concorrentes mais poderosos. Desta forma, a Globo se encontra em situação mais vulnerável, inclusive diante do poder público, do qual espera auxílio.

After making disastrous investments, such as its attempt at international expansion (with TV Monte Carlo) and an excessive bet on the potential of subscription TV, the conglomerate found itself fairly deep in debt (though its open-air broadcasting business remains profitable). Furthermore, the recent opening of the market to foreign capital could bring more powerful competitors to Brazil. Thus, Globo finds itself in a more vulnerable situation, including its relationship to the public sector, from which it expects to receive assistance.

Coincidência ou não, é neste momento de crise que a emissora inicia uma ofensiva destinada a transformar sua imagem pública. Nascida à sombra da ditadura, parceira dos militares no projeto do Brasil Grande, a Rede Globo sempre foi um bastião do conservadorismo político, usando a influência proporcionada por sua imensa penetração para vetar as mudanças que não lhe agradavam. “Sim, eu uso o poder,” a frase do “jornalista” Roberto Marinho, que comandou a empresa por mais de meio século, em entrevista a New York Times revela o papel que a emissora atribuía a si mesma.

Coincidence or not, it is at this critical moment that the broadcaster is launching an offensive designed to transform its public image. Born in the shadow of the dictatorship, a partner with the president-generals in the project for Brazilian greatness, Globo was always a bastion of political conservatism, using the influence provided by its immense market penetration to veto changes that did not serve its interests. “Yes, I make use of power,” the famous phrase of the”journalist” Roberto Marinho, who ran the company for more than half a century, in an interview with the New York Times, reveals the role Globo ascribes to itself.

Agora, porém, ela se mostra como guardiã dos valores profissionais do jornalismo. Em vez de usar o poder para orientar a opinião pública na direção “certa”, a Globo apenas informaria com isenção e objetividade os fatos do Brasil e do mundo. Os poderosos, em geral, quando mudam de orientação, não se limitam a mexer no presente e a gerar novas conseqüências para o futuro. Eles também reescrevem o passado. Com a Globo não é diferente. O projeto “Memória Globo”, começado nos anos 1990, é por certo uma iniciativa valiosa, que vem gerando um importante acervo de documentos que registram um momento essencial da história da comunicação no Brasil. Mas é também guiado por um objetivo ideológico, de limpar a imagem da emissora das manchas, muitas delas persistentes, que foram ali colocadas por seus críticos. O fruto mais vistoso do projeto, até o momento, é revelador desta proposta. Trata-se de uma “biografia” do telejornal mais importante da casa, que em 2004 completou 35 anos de existência.

Now, however, it depicts itself as a guardian of the professional values of journalism. Rather than using its power to point public opinion in the “right” direction, Globo, it wants us to believe, merely reports objectivelyl and impartially on events in Brazil and the world. The powerful, in general, when they change direction, do not limit themselves to making changes in the present, creating new consequences for the future. They also tend to rewrite the past. Globo is no different. The “Memory Globo” project, begun in the 1990s, is certainly a valuable project, generating an important collection of documents that record a crucial moment in the history of mass communications in Brazil. But it is also orietned by an ideological objective, which is to clear the network’s name of the stains, many of them persistent, that have been placed there by its criticis. [This book,] the most visible fruit of the project to date, reveals this intention. It consists of a “biography” of the network’s most important news broadcast, which celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2004.

Primeiro telenoticiário de abrangência “nacional” (embora no início só atingisse uma porção minoritária do território), o Jornal Nacional é ainda hoje a principal fonte de informação de milhões de brasileiros. De longe, é o informativo mais assistido do país. Também não é pequena sua importância histórica. Quando foi ao ar pela primeira vez, em 1º de setembro de 1969, era uma grande demonstração da “integração nacional” tão almejada pelos governantes militares. O sistema de microondas implantado pela Embratel — isto é, pelo poder público — permitia a transmissão simultânea, e a Rede Globo soube aproveitar a oportunidade.

The first news program to reach a “national” audience (although at first it only reached a minority of national territory), the Jornal Nacional remains the principal source of information for millions of Brazilians. It is by far the most-watched news show in Brazil. Its historical importance is also considerable. When it went on the air for the first time on September 1, 1969, it was a great demostration of the “national integration” aimed at by the military rulers of Brazil. The system of microwave retransmitters installed by Embratel — that is, by the government — permitted simultaneous transmission, and Globo knew how to take advantage of the opportunity.

Jornal Nacional, o livro, retoma a trajetória do noticiário, em edição bem cuidada, com centenas de ilustrações. Trata-se, em primeiro lugar, de uma homenagem aos profissionais que fizeram o telejornal, o que explica as longas listas de nomes de repórteres, editores, cinegrafistas e técnicos, algo enfadonhas para o leitor comum. A obra também funciona como uma recapitulação — ou, ao menos, um aide-mémoire — da vida cotidiana dos últimos 35 anos, ao recordar eventos que costumam ficar de lado nos livros de história, mas que forneceram matéria-prima para coberturas “memoráveis”, como os grandes incêndios de edifícios (Andraus, Joelma, Andorinhas) ou crimes que causaram sensação.

The book recounts the program’s history in a well-made edition with hundreds of illustrations. It consists, first and foremost, of an homage to the professionals who worked on the program, which explains the long lists of names of reporters, editors, camera operators and technicians, which the average reader will find somewhat tiresome. The book also serves as a recapitulation — or at least, as an aide-memoire — of daily life over the last 35 years, recalling events that are often left out of history books but which provided raw material for “memorable” coverage, such as major building fires (Andraus, Joelma, Andorinhas) or crimes that caused a public sensation.

O estilo, por outro lado, é o do panegírico: a louvação de uma grande obra que progride de vitória em vitória, sem recuos, sem erros. Mudanças de diretores, por exemplo, são sempre narradas como levando a continuidades e aprimoramentos, nunca a mudanças de rumo. Todas as tensões presentes no processo são eliminadas. O resultado lembra a história oficial dos manuais escolares convencionais, destinados a alimentar mais o civismo do que o conhecimento histórico, pregando a ilusão de uma nação sem conflitos.

The style, on the other hand, is that of panegyric: In praise of a great project that progresses from victory to victory, without retreat, without error. Changes in management, for example, are invariably narrated as bringing continuity and improvement, never changes of course. All of the tensions inherent in that process are eliminated. The result reminds one of the official history one reads in textbooks, designed more to inspire civic feeling than to provide historical understanding, and preaching the illusion of a nation without conflicts.

In the view of this review, then, the book is a well-made edition of an important collection of documents about a topic of great historical significance, but suffers from historical revisionism and the rhetoric of authohagiography.

With that assessment, I actually find myself potentially interested in buying the thing. Or might be, if the average retail price were not somewhere north of R$50.

I have said it before and I will say it again: In Brazil, books are too goddamn expensive.

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