If the corporate press understood that Lava Jato, due to the media appeal it had on the audience, with spectacular turnarounds and arrests of politicians and big businessmen, was a subject to be worked on at the pace of a dramatic series, with a dose of sensationalism, the The Americanas scandal theoretically offers all the ingredients that the mainstream media needs to develop thought-provoking investigative journalism: it involves important people, large sums of money, inside informationmystery, probably intrigues, threats and corruption in the highest spheres of economic power, in addition to indicating that it is a perfect crime.
But on the contrary, what we see is a bureaucratic, aseptic and predictable coverage as is the news of the Black Friday shopping season. What has changed? The actors. While in Lava Jato the protagonists were the PT leaders, for whom the press harbors antipathy, in the case of Americanas they are the richest men in the country, tirelessly incensed by “independent and professional journalism”. Switching characters makes a big difference.
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The inflection is not an oversight. Calling into question matters that go against the position of the vehicles and the business community is looking for a scab to scratch. Over time, teaches Robert McChesney – who studies the role that the media play in democratic and capitalist societies -, successful journalists simply internalize the idea that it is foolish and “unprofessional” to want to pursue controversial stories that, for the most part, cause headaches and demand a lot of effort to obtain the approval of the leadership – which demands more and more “irrefutable” evidence to submit to journalistic scrutiny an allied political actor -, an absurd standard by which, as pointed out by the producer of the CNN April Oliver, “there would have been no Watergate”.
This seems to be the case with the Americanas billionaire coup. Journalistic coverage has been extremely zealous in presenting the facts and their protagonists. The exorbitant debt of more than R$40 billion is approached much more as a contingent breach than a deliberate fraud (sorry for the pleonasm).
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Most of the news explores the repercussions of the case for the stock market, the judicial war between the creditor banks and the retailer, the possible implications of the request for judicial recovery and the alternatives for the thousands of small shareholders and suppliers, questions how a hole of that magnitude could have gone unnoticed in the eyes of the executives, the reference partners, the external audit and the supervisory bodies and speculates about the measures that should have been taken so that the accounting inconsistency did not happen and what measures the Council of Values Furniture, regulatory body, should take.
Nor the editorials – only two (The globe e Folha de S. Paulo) -, who tend to be blunt and intransigent with authorities, public servants and economic policies that displease them, applied an almost indulgent tone to default.
Meanwhile, contrary to the common practice on police and political pages, where suspects of crimes and corruption schemes are quickly exposed, until now those responsible for one of the biggest accounting frauds in the country are shrouded in mystery, despite strong suspicions that this is a masterstroke, not a governance problem. The discovery that the former CEO and the then board of directors of Americanas, whose names strangely do not appear in the articles, sold BRL 241.5 million in company shares in the second half of 2022 is indisputable evidence of bad faith and that the fraud on the retailer’s balance sheets was a well-conceived plan.
The lack of interest in journalistic coverage to reveal the culprits and provoke a reflection on the permissive SA law, on the fragile protection of consumers and small suppliers, on the savage deregulation of the markets and on the criminal liability of crimes of fraud not only little has helped to clarify who is the villain of this “accounting pyrotechnics” as it has contributed to create a gray cloud that engulfs history, distorts and confuses those who see all this mess from the outside.
Even Americanas’ leading partners – Jorge Paulo Lemann, Marcel Telles and Carlos Alberto Sicupira -, under inevitable pressure from creditors and the courts, still enjoy the endless benefit of the doubt from the media, which until recently treated them as the semi -gods of “good capitalism”, or whatever that means.
Until an investigative journalist does his homework, as BTG’s defense lawyers dared, who stuck their finger in the face of the celebrated billionaires calling them fraudsters, the perception of those who follow the unfolding of the investigations on the news is that of that this mess is not the result of a deliberate coup, but a mere side effect of the risky business world. It’s from the game!
It is as if the journalists who cover and comment on the subject were guided by their leadership not to call into question the character of the super-rich and the myth that corporations are the beacons of meritocracy, morality and efficiency, not to question the foundations of liberalism, such as market deregulation, tax cuts and capital accumulation, or the dysfunctionality of this capitalist model for Brazilian society.
This journalistic blackout is not an isolated case and occurs every time the damage caused by the economic elite emerges.
As it is difficult to ignore the size of the trouble, the press coverage does a harm reduction job, approaches the subject from the fringes and avoids exposing the central characters of the mess until the episode becomes a memory.
The list is long, such as the Magazines Luiza and Americanas retailers that sell products from brands accused of labor analogous to slavery, the technology giants that use illegal gold from Brazilian indigenous lands, the Crutale cartel that led thousands of small farmers to ruin financial situation, of the thousands of families that lost their homes due to mining by Braskem, in Maceió, by the aluminum manufacturer Norsk Hydro, responsible for polluting rivers with toxic waste that sickened quilombola communities and indigenous peoples in Pará, and the blind eye that banks do for the deforestation caused by their customers.
One cannot forget the Operation Zelotes of the Federal Police launched in 2015 to investigate a corruption scheme in the Tax Appeals Administration Council (CARF), a collegiate body of the Ministry of Finance, responsible for judging administrative appeals from assessments against companies and individuals for tax and social security evasion. At least 70 companies were investigated, with emphasis on Gerdau, BankBoston, Mundial-Eberle, Ford, Mitsubishi, Santander, Bradesco, Banco Safra and Grupo RBS, affiliate of Rede Globo in Rio Grande do Sul, all with millionaire tax debts in game.
Finally, the collapse of the Vale mining dams in Brumadinho and Mariana. What was the end of the company’s former CEO, the other members of its board and those responsible for the fragile technical reports that attested to the stability of the dams? Like other big fish involved in crimes and denunciations of all kinds, Fabio Schvartsman, president of the mining company at the time of the disasters, seems to be doing well. Despite the environmental tragedy and the death of more than 270 people, he continues to live a life of luxury and glamor and restful sleep protected by legal medallions, at Vale’s expense. It reappeared on the Brazilian corporate scene last year in a kind of rehabilitation in the business world.
The proximity that exists between the bigwigs of the ruling elite and the leadership of newspapers and TV stations makes it even more difficult for vehicles to go deep in journalistic investigations. Close ties, noted scholar Silvio Waisbord , constrain media organizations from going after the secrets of those involved, who transit in the same exclusive environments where the tycoons of large communication groups roam. They have the same aristocratic background, share the same worldview and create emotional bonds that go beyond the ideological pact.
A rare record of the intimacy of the residents upstairs was the dinner, caught in September 2021, at Naji Nahas’s apartment, which fully summarizes the promiscuous relationship between the media and powerful people with a dirty record. In addition to the host, a speculator arrested for corruption and money laundering, better known as “the man who broke the Rio de Janeiro Stock Exchange”, former president Michel Temer, detained by the Federal Police for active corruption and money laundering, was at the meal. of money, his friend and lawyer José Yunes, arrested by the PF and accused of being an intermediary of bribes, and the president of the PSD, Gilberto Kassab, indicted by the PF for bribes of R$ 58 million received from the J&F group.
Alongside these celebrities of questionable reputation were journalists Roberto D’Ávila, presenter and director of GloboNews, João Carlos Saad, president of Grupo Bandeirantes, and journalist Antonio Carlos Pereira, who was the newspaper’s director of opinion. The State of S. Paulo.
The complicity and casualness revealed on video lead us to distrust the independence that the vehicle’s newsroom would have from any of those representatives of the mainstream media to investigate their social peers in depth. Hence, explains Waisbord, why journalists are prone to provide complacent coverage or ignore the transgressions of powerful people in the market.
Brazilian investigative journalism is selective. The commitment of the corporate press to fight corruption, to reveal the irregularities of authorities and businessmen depends to a large extent on who commits them. Quoting Robert McChesney once again, the most productive and prudent thing, in the understanding of the most experienced journalists, is to generate stories with a tried and tested formula that cost little, that adjust well to the commercial objectives of the media and do not antagonize the interests of the elite and from advertisers. After all, as the writer and columnist Richard Reeves summarized about the pragmatic vision of the executives who govern the media world: good journalism is bad for business.
* Luís Humberto Carrijo is a founding partner of the communication agency Rapport Comunica, specializing in press relations for civil servants. Journalist and communicator, he has a postgraduate degree in Business Communication at USP and a Master’s degree in Communication and Culture at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He is also the author of the book O Carcereiro – o Japonês da Federal e os inmate da Lava Jato.
** This is an opinion article. The author’s view does not necessarily express the editorial line of the newspaper Brazil in fact.
Editing: Rodrigo Durão Coelho
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