Brazilian News Media Garbles Survey Data on the Question, “Does Your News Media Report Honestly and Accurately?”

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Brazilians rate the performance of their press low, in terms of “honest and accuracy,” according to the BBC-Synovate survey in question. They rate the relative priority of press freedom and social stability about the same, with a slight edge to the latter. Brazil is among those countries where respondents tended to find their news media lacking in accuracy and impartiality.

Item, from Veja magazine (Brazil): Para 40% no mundo, liberdade é ‘secundária’. That is,

“For 40% of the world population, freedom is ‘secondary.'”

In this respect, it has merely parroted the suggested headline from the BBC press release:

The BBC’s headline

World Divided on Press Freedom

Which is by way of being something of a glittering generality in the service of a “polarization” narrative. A 60-40 margin in an election, for example, may fairly be described as a “landslide.” Here, “opinion is divided.” Go figure. On the BBC 2.0’s own proclivity for happy-talk spin-control see also

As to the “world” part of the proposition that “the world is divided”: The BRIC nations, minus China — a notable omission — along with selected former members of the British Empire — where are Canada (Conrad Black), Australia (Rupert Murdoch) and Pakistan (retired generalissimo Musharraf), for example? — are generalizable to the entire world?

Singapore — an island the size of, what, Central Park? — represents the whole of Asia? This is a bit like surveying Upper East Side residents who live in the 80s beween Lexington and Madison, then reporting that you have taken the pulse of New York City as a whole. If not more so.

And Thailand, and Myanmar, and Indonesia and Malaysia, and the Philippines? And Pakistan?

The survey seems to be leaving out parts of the world that are inconvenient to the thesis it wants to promote. Or else just happen to be run at the moment by patriotic, nation-purifying generalissimos who would not let the BBC in to take the pulse of public opinion on the importance of a free press.

Alternative headline:

“Most Brazilians do not believe their press reports the news accurately and without bias — but most believe there is nothing stopping it from doing so.”

And you know what?

From what I can tell, those Brazilians — São Paulo residents, in the vast majority (see “Demographics,” below)– surveyed by the BBC’s “innovation synergies” poll are right.

When Veja magazine (Brazil), for example, gists the press release on this BBC survey, on perceptions of and attitudes about, press freedom — conducted “by the international polling firms GlobeScan Incorporated and Synovate” — Veja magazine (Brazil) gists the synovative press release in a fairly synovative manner.

The Brazilian news media cartel tends to omit facts it finds inconvenient to its commercial interests.

Veja simply omits to mention the factoid, for example, that

Strong majorities in Brazil (80%), Mexico (76%), USA (74%), and Great Britain (71%) believe that the concentration of media ownership in fewer hands is a concern because owners’ political views emerge in reporting.

Alternative headline — employing the same degree of gabbling generalization from a limited sample to the entire universe:

The world, led by Brazil, is united in the belief that concentrated media ownership leads to viciously slanted and distorted news reporting.

Veja magazine (Brazil) also says that the press release says things that it does not, in fact, really quite say. (I cut and pasted the article cited here from its Web site at about 2:30 pm local time here in Sâo Paulo).

The BBC pollsters had noted:

In countries where social stability is more highly valued, those surveyed in India (61% good performance) and the UAE (52%) believe the news is being reported honestly, contrasting with a more negative view of press performance in Russia (27%), Mexico (28%), Brazil (31%) and Singapore (37%).

Veja reports that BBC reports that 28% of Brazilians believe their press is “very free.” It writes:

O Brasil foi o terceiro colocado entre os países cujas populações consideram sua imprensa “muito livre” — 28% dos entrevistados brasileiros disseram isso, menos apenas que americanos e venezuelanos, com 31%.

Brazil was third among countries whose populations consider their press “very free” — 28% of Brazilians said this, fewer than only Americans and Venezuelans.

Which kind of makes it seem like only a fairly small proportion of the population think the press is free enough, doesn’t it?

But look: survey question asks the respondent to rank press freedom in their country on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is “very free.”

So I suppose that might indicate that 28% of Brazilians responded with a score of 5, rather than say, a 4.

Yes, looking at the raw numbers, I see that is the case.

The press release, however, says only:

Fifty-two percent of Brazilians give a high freedom rating to the Brazilian media, compared with 56 percent worldwide.

Okay, so as it turns out, 28% of Brazilian responded with a 5, 24% with a 4, and the BBC’s write-up of the results is defining “high freedom rating” as the total number of respondents scoring a 4 or a 5 on this point.

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The hard-number percentages on “how free is your news media?” from the BBC survey. Click to zoom

Alternative reading:

Only 21% of Brazilians surveyed say the media is not at all, or not very, free.

Only 7% say it is not at all free (1).

Some 14% say it is not very free (2).

I would have scored it 2 myself, based on what Brazilian journalists themselves say. See

The Brazilian journalist does not feel free to write. More than just having to follow the editorial line of the publications they work for, the complaints principally have to do with coercion by political or business groups. –“A Profile of the Brazilian Journalist”

That article on the Brazilian journalism profesion, which stated that conclusion, was sponsored by the Editora Abril.

It no longer appears on its Web site, however.

The Editora Abril has apparently unpublished it.

These findings on media concentration and perceptions of press freedom — to the extent the have the validity claimed for them — may be something of an inconvenient result as well, in light of Veja‘s campaign to position itself as a martyr to press freedom at the hands of an authoritarian regime.


Stalinism looms: martyrdom narrative from the Editora Abril. “The Authoritarian Temptation: The PT’s attempts to monitor and control the press, television and culture.” Translation: “Shitfire, Dilma could decide those zero-down spectrum concessions we got were the fruit of crooked dealings! Get rid of her, I don’t care how!”

Some 20% of Americans say the same thing — that the news media is not at all or not very free.

Some 8% of Germans, many of whom think their media is not accurate or impartial, think that.

Some 27% of Venezuelans think that.

Because, on the other hand, according to the same BBC survey, relatively few people believe that the news is being reported honestly here in Brazil — although interestingly, more Brazilians (or rather, urban residents with telephones in the Southeastern region) than Americans surveyed think this, by a margin of 37% to 30%.

In countries where social stability is more highly valued, those surveyed in India (61% good performance) and the UAE (52%) believe the news is being reported honestly, contrasting with a more negative view of press performance in Russia (27%), Mexico (28%), Brazil (31%) and Singapore (37%).

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(Brazil is more genuinely democratic than Russia, Singapore or Mexico, I would venture to say, though it suffers from a lot of the same democratic deficits as Mexico in some regions.)

This is to accentuate the negative slightly, and dwell on differences rather notable similarities: The news media in the USA, Brazil, Venezuela, and Germany all score roughly the same percentage under “Average,” but more Americans think their news media totally sucks than do Brazilians. Only 16% of people surveyed in Venezuela said this.

Odd, too, that in presenting these results, the BBC does not present the breakdown between scores of 4 and 5 is this category.

Why would it do so with “perceptions of freedom” and not with ” perceptions of accuracy and impartiality”?

The thing is, of course, the major news media in Brazil really does quite often suck very, very badly. I

(If you polled me on this question, I would probably vacillate between 2 and 3, because while it often shows itself capable of doing much better — there are many fine journalists, who often report very well, by Five Ws standards, on subjects not subject to editorial intervention from the business side, and there are also a decent number of good, but small and struggling, publications are to be had outside the realm of the Big 3 newsweeklies — the Brazilian news organization often chooses to do much, much worse at moments that the business side considers strategic.)


More than half of editors surveyed by the WEF worry most about business-side pressures as a threat to editorial independence. The message from Murdoch and McKinnon: Don’t worry! Be happy! Can your integrity build you a new swimming pool? See
“Don’t Buck the Trend”: Hearing Global Voices at the World Editors Forum

Among Western developed countries where press freedom is assigned a higher value:

Of the countries where press freedom is most highly valued, Western developed countries are more critical of how honestly and accurately the news is reported, including Germany (28% average rating for good performance of public and private media), Great Britain (29%),and the USA (29%) whereas Venezuela (44%), South Africa (49%), Nigeria (58%), and Kenya (61%) rate the media performance more positively.

Developed nations are critical, less developed nations are what? Uncritical?

When developed nations think news quality is poor, they are “critical.” When less developed nations think so, they are “negative.”

As a measure of the fact that perception might not always be reality, I suggest that you actually read some Nigerian newspapers sometime, with some standard code of journalistic best practices in hand. Just check to see how carefully they apply the Five Ws standard, for example. You will find yourself reading some really crazy stuff, I bet you.

I cannot speak for Kenya.

Another inconvenient factoid:

Strong majorities in Brazil (80%), Mexico (76%), USA (74%), and Great Britain (71%) believe that the concentration of media ownership in fewer hands is a concern because owners’ political views emerge in reporting.

Public opinion strongly “concerned” about concentrated media ownership is very, very bad news for the Grupo Abril, Veja‘s owner, if true.

See

Which must be why Veja decided to omit that factoid from its write-up.

Ecce Veja.

To put it in perspective, then:

  • 70% of Brazilians surveyed think that the news media is at least relatively free to report accurately and impartially.
  • 52% think it is quite free, or extremely free, to do so.
  • 63% of Brazilians think that it does not excel at doing so.
  • 25% thinks it really, really sucks on this point.

It could if it it wanted to.

But it doesn’t.

Which is pretty much my view of the situation.

How many Brazilians think the news media is extremely free to publish news that is inaccurate, dishonest and slanted, by the way? I would give it a 5 on that count.

On the other hand, 37% of Brazilians surveyed think it is either pretty good or damned good at honesty, impartiality and accuracy. (But we are not informed how many think it is superb.)

That they would have low expectations in this regard, given the range of available choices, is not too surprising, though, you might argue.

You should watch some Brazilian TV news sometime.

It really is, by professional standards, just horrific.

See, for example,

And there is nothing else on.

The Germans apparently hold this idea most strongly: Very, very few people think the press could not report accurately and impartially if it really wanted to.

Further question: What are the principal sources of the unfreedom noted?

The survey is worded to avoid making such distinctions, it seems.

Some factors to consider:

  • Repressive laws and other attacks on the press by state actors (and their proxies)
  • Corruption and cooption of news organizations by interest groups (including criminal and non-criminal business enterprises, political groups, philanthropreneurial and misanthropreneurialnon-state actors, and combinations thereof)

It is not à toa that people talk here about the “privatization of censorship” in the hands of the likes of Abril and Globo.

Veja chooses to emphasize the poor perceptions of the performance of “government and public-funded news agencies.”

Which is a view I tend to share.

The federal, state, and municipal legislatures and executives all have their own channels, as does the judiciary. A lot of this stuff is just mind-blowingly awful — especially TV Justiça. On the other hand, Radiobras, the, what is it, Brazilian NOTIMEX of the federal executive, is not really so bad — it has an ombudsman, for example, who is apparently not just a figurehead.

But nobody, and I mean nobody, watches it, according to IBOPE. (I do, but then I am kind of a C-SPAN junkie.)

Brazilian public TV does not yet really exist — or rather, has just gotten off the ground in an extremely modest way.

The problem in this category, with respect to Brazil, is that there is too often no clear difference between the private sector and public institutions when it comes to the generation and dissemination of news and information (and gabbling propaganda.)

The privately owned media often merely serves as a conduit for these institutional messages. A garish example:

It is very common to see Brazilian news organizations simply plagiarizing official (public or private-sector) press or video news releases (VNRs). Without or without attribution. Often without, especially on TV.

Or basing its coverage purely on leaks from institutional insiders not necessarily authorized to speak the institution.

Veja on Venezuela:

O apoio à liberdade de imprensa na Venezuela chama a atenção pelo fato de o país viver um verdadeiro drama com as restrições impostas pelo governo de Hugo Chávez às redes de TV e jornais que discordam do presidente. Os países em que a população dá preferência à estabilidade social em detrimento da liberdade de imprensa são Rússia (onde há forte repressão da mídia), Índia e Cingapura. Nesses países, cerca de 48% disseram que preferem a estabilidade. Cerca de 40% disseram preferir uma mídia livre.

The support for freedom of the press in Venezuela calls attention to the fact that the nation is living a veritable drama with the restrictions imposedby the Chavez government on television networks who disagree with the president. Nations in which the populations state a pŕeference for social stability to the detriment of freedom of the press are Russia (where there is a powerful repression of the media), India and Singapore. In these countries, nearly 48% say they prefer stability. Some 40% says they prefer a free news media.

Russia media ownership is concentrated in the hands of Gazprom, which effectively means it is controlled, in its majority, by the Kremlin. See

O Globo/BBC Brasil on the poll:

Uma pesquisa encomendada pelo Serviço Mundial da BBC aponta que os venezuelanos acreditam mais do que os brasileiros na liberdade da mídia em seu país para cobrir os fatos de forma “precisa, verdadeira e imparcial”.

A poll commissioned by the BBC World Service indicates that Venezuelans believe more than Brazilians do in the freedom of their press to cover the facts in a “precise, true and impartial manner.”

Entre os venezuelanos, 63% disseram acreditar na liberdade da imprensa local. Entre os brasileiros, esse percentual cai para 52%. O índice venezuelano também é maior do que a média geral obtida nos 14 países pesquisados (56%).

Among Venezuelans, 63% say they believe in [sic] the freedom of the local press. Among Brazilians, that falls to 52%. The Venezuelan index is higher than the average in the 14 countries surveyed.

There are two “freedom” questions: (1) Is the press free? And, (2) How high a priority should press freedom be, relative to another value? (I cannot understand why respondents were not also asked to rank this relative priority on a 1 to 5 scale.)

In this case, the Venezuelan number reflect the “is” rather than the “ought to be” question, I think.

But freedom from what?

  1. Totalitarian regimes, phantom and otherwise?
  2. Ali Kamel and João “Attest to the Accuracy and Impartiality of Globo Journalism or You Will Never Work in This Town Again” Marinho?

O resultado da Venezuela contraria a classificação do país em rankings internacionais sobre liberdade de imprensa. Uma avaliação feita em outubro passado pela organização não-governamental Repórteres Sem Fronteiras colocou a Venezuela em 114º lugar numa lista de 169 países. O Brasil ocupou a 84ª posição.

The result from Venezuela would seem to contradict the nation’s showing in international rankings on freedom of the press. An evaluation by Reporters Without Borders placed Venezuela in 114th place among 169 nations. Brazil was in 84th place.

On RSF’s dwindling credibility, see also

Then again, only 17% of Egyptians surveyed said they thought their press was not free.

Egypt has a president for life, of the kind who tends to get elected with 98% of the vote, and is, moreover, something of a totalitarian police state, sectors of the resistance to which (Aiman Az-Zawahari) have given up on writing letters to the editor with pen and ink and taken to writing them in jet fuel and corpses.

Notoriously. I personally witnessed, with my own eyeballs, one such example of “propaganda of the deed.” I will never forget it, either. I am standing on the platform at Smith & 9th one morning, getting ready to transfer to the G train, and gaping at a nasty smoking hole in one tower of the WTC. All of a sudden: KABOOM! Holy fucking shit, I think. The week got progressively worse from there.

As to the situation of press freedom in the UAE, where everyone reportedly thinks the press is just peachy, consider this news item from Gulf News, dated September 25, 2007, headlined “UAE upholds press freedom.”

With the customary portrait of the beneficent emir, which is about the entire extent of news photography there, it seems.

Abu Dhabi/Dubai: In a victory for freedom of the press in the UAE, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, yesterday issued instructions that journalists in the country will not be jailed for doing their work. The announcement was made by Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister and Chairman of the National Media Council (NMC).

“Other measures” can be taken against violators of the press laws, but not jail. Which would be what? Summary whippings in the street? Yanking one’s license to write and publish?

The press laws are not the problem, just the measures used to enforce them.

Shaikh Abdullah said Shaikh Mohammad issued instructions that no journalist is to be jailed for reasons related to his work, adding that there are other measures that may be taken against journalists who break the press and publication law, but not jail, WAM reported.

Official sources say the Emirates are dedicated to press freedom.

If anyone disagrees with that proposition, they are not quoted in the article. Only emirs and shaikhs are quoted in the article, which is accompanied by those standard formal portraits of sheiks and emirs.

Go figure.

Veja magazine story a while back: “Dubai is an island of progress in the Middle East.”

Dubai has a medieval, autocratic form of government.

This is apparently Veja magazine’s vision of progress: “Back to the future!”

Demographics

In Brazil the survey was conducted in Belo Horizonte, Campinas, Curitiba, Fortaleza, Porto Alegre, Recife, Ribeirão Preto, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Santos, São José dos Campos and São Paulo.

What, no Teresina, Cuiabá, San Luis de Maranhão (Sarney country) or Manaus?

No Brasília?

You call that a national sample?

I mean, that implies that, among the cities in which respondents were selected, there were five São Paulo cities out of twelve — for a total pool of 12 million persons — and let me see, 8 Southeastern (7) and Southern (1) capital cities out of 12, for a total pool of 20.6 million potential respondents from selected Southern and Southeastern capital cities — a subset of the pool in which the state of São Paulo represents about 60% of the pool.

These are back-of-the-envelope calculations, mind you.

The entire population of the Southeastern region is about 78 million, of which the population of the São Paulo cities from which respondents were selected represents about 15%.

The Southeastern population is about 42% of the national population.

Northeastern cities: 5.8 million, out of a total national pool of 28.4 million.

Central-Western cities, including the rambunctious Mato Grosso and Mato Gross do Sul, home to a country-music demographic — Brazilian Nascar dads, you might say — which is increasingly, and very visibly, targeted these days by advertisers: 0.

Northern states, gateway to the Amazon and focus of economic development efforts (and the push against slave labor, and for agrarian reform): 0.

São Paulo state has some 13% of the national population (but 40%+ of GDP).

The survey was also carried out by telephone, unlike most of the other surveys, national or “urban.”

Brazil had 235 telephone lines per 1,000 inhabitants in 2004.

Not sure what it is now.

But something like 90% of households have televisions.

How did they settle on those demographics and methods, anyway? And turn an extremely skewed sample (concentrated heavily in the urban Southeast) into a sample of “national” scope?

Ask Manuel Lopes of Synovate.

In January 2003, the market research companies belonging to global communications specialist Aegis Group plc came together to form the newest and most exciting global research company, Synovate. … Synovate is in the business of reinventing research.

I always get worried when I hear that.

Henry Blodget was in the business of reinventing equities research, much as Enron was in the business of reinventing generally accepted accounting standards.

In South Africa the survey was conducted in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg, representing 19% of the total national adult population.

The Brazilian sample (from which the random respondents with telephones are chosen) represents 17% of the population, was conducted in cities — half of them in São Paulo — and is described as “national.” South Africa’s is described as “urban.”

Go figure.

In India:

In India the survey was conducted in Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai, representing 3% of the total national adult population.

What? No Bangalore?

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Well, that was a pretty meaningless exercise.

As reading global surveys designed to generalize to the state of world public opinion often are.

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