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Covid-19 thrusts Brazil’s media landscape into uncertainty

. Apr 18, 2020
media companies covid-19 Photo: Yunming Wang/Unsplash

Covid-19 has created something of a paradox for media companies around the world.

On the one hand, ratings, readership, and views are off the charts, with readers avidly seeking information about the deadly virus that has infected over 2 million people, killed another 151,000 worldwide, and halted the global economy. Additionally, the pandemic renewed the trust people place in mainstream professional journalism. A survey by renowned pollster Datafolha shows that Brazilians see traditional media as a safe haven against misinformation.

However, the cause of this renewed valuation in honest, accurate reporting is also a threat to the very existence of multiple journalism companies.

The crisis has severely crippled revenues. Unsure of their economic future, advertisers are pulling the plug on media campaigns across the globe. In a report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, The New York Times said it expects a decline in ad revenue in the mid-teens over Q1 2020. BuzzFeed began wage cuts of up to 25 percent for its top executives. Group Nine laid off 7 percent of its staff. Vox began asking readers for contributions and is reportedly planning to announce furloughs. Even tech giants Google and Facebook, which have gobbled newspaper ad money for years, are expected to lose billions of advertising dollars.

In Brazil, where the media industry is far less diverse than in the U.S., the blow was even harder, leading some of the sector’s top dogs to propose salary cuts and reduced hours to survive the pandemic. Here is what Brazil’s media companies are proposing to their journalists:

  • TV station RedeTV! wants to cut wages by 50 percent for 90 days and postpone payments of profit sharing related to 2019.
  • The São Paulo newspapers and magazines union, which represents the likes of Estadão, Folha de S.Paulo, Globo, among others, wants to be able to suspend contracts for two months and cut hours and wages by up to 70 percent.

They are basing their proposals on a provisional decree signed by President Jair Bolsonaro on April 1, allowing companies to reduce salaries by up to 70 percent for three months, as a way to avoid massive layoffs — with the government promising it will compensate workers. A Supreme Court injunction, however, ruled that trade unions must be consulted before settlements can become valid. After four video conferences between companies and labor representatives, journalists proposed that unions begin negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement.

An already feeble media environment

Brazil’s media landscape is a bleak one. Between 2010 and 2019, the country fell 47 places on the World Press Freedom Index — from 58th all the way down to 105th. The ranking used to monitor threats against journalists — ranging from lawsuits to deadly violence — indicated that reporters in Brazil are facing the biggest challenges they have seen in years. According to NGO Reporters Without Borders, which produces the index, “Brazil continues to be an especially violent country for the media, and many journalists have been killed in connection with their work.”

But that’s not the only reason the country ranks so low in the press freedom index. “Media ownership continues to be very concentrated, especially in the hands of oligarchic families that are closely linked to the political class.” That dynamic creates “news deserts” around the country, that is, municipalities without a single local news organization. Over 37 million Brazilians live in such places.


Brazil’s news deserts (in white)

news deserts brazil

Market concentration, however, is only set to increase — as the drop in revenue will deliver a death blow to many independent outlets. Because, in addition to the loss of advertising money, most media companies dropped their paywall for Covid-19-related stories, which — in the absence of any other relevant news topics — essentially means dropping the paywall altogether.

But you don’t have to worry about The Brazilian Report. We have tried to make crucial information about the pandemic accessible without crippling our subscription-based business model. Our Covid-19 Live Blog is paywall-free, but articles and newsletters with in-depth analysis remain as paid content. Our audience has been multiplied by 20 and our daily subscription ratio has risen over the past month and a half.

Which allows us to protect our brave journalists that try, day in, day out, to explain Brazil to foreign audiences.

 
Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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