In January of this year, it was announced that a Brazilian media group had purchased licensing rights from American news giant CNN to launch its own domestic platform—CNN Brasil—later in 2019. This initially came as a welcome sign for Brazil’s ailing journalism market, following in the footsteps of other international outlets—The Huffington Post, El País, The Intercept, among others—who opened their own Brazilian affiliates in recent years.

This optimism was soon overshadowed by confusion, as the public tried to work out exactly what the deal meant: would CNN Brasil be an extension of the North American news channel? Or, something entirely different? Indications show that the latter is the most likely outcome.

In recent decades, CNN owners WarnerMedia have made agreements with media groups from around the world to sell the rights to use the CNN brand for local channels, principally in Asia. For the most part, these CNN affiliates are independent organizations, following their own editorial lines and broadcasting only domestically produced content. A prime example of this is CNN Türk, the Istanbul-based media outlet which is overwhelmingly supportive of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—a drastic departure from the views of the mothership back in the U.S.

Therefore, as CNN Brasil will be an independent venture, purely using the CNN brand without any requirement to follow its editorial view, it is worthwhile paying attention to the people behind the NewCo. In this case, there are two main figures worth considering.

Business is next to Godliness

First, is billionaire Rubens Menin, founder and controlling shareholder of MRV Engenharia, Brazil’s largest real estate company and homebuilder. Among the country’s richest men, he also founded Banco Inter, which raised BRL 722 million in an initial public offering early this year. Mr. Menin will act as the chairman of the CNN Brasil board.

Inextricably linked to big business, Mr. Menin is among the most politically engaged of Brazil’s business tycoons. During last year’s electoral campaign, he made several public statements defending the interest of Brazilian business, and is a member of the “You Change Brazil” movement—a group of high-flying business owners and academics who get together to debate “the morals, citizenship, and challenges facing the country.”

He has a history of lobbying institutions to defend the interests of big business. When MRV Engenharia was issued notifications for providing its employees with working conditions analogous to slave labor, Mr. Menin set up an association of homebuilders which went to the Supreme Court to try and clear MRV’s name. It is expected that his ambitions with CNN Brasil will be somewhere in this ballpark of defending big business on a nationwide scale.

CNN Brasil fox news

From left, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, Douglas Tavolaro, President Bolsonaro, and Rubens Menin sat down on Jan. 18 to discuss CNN Brasil.

The other crucial figure involved is Douglas Tavolaro, who will be CNN Brasil’s CEO and oversee its operations. The involvement of Mr. Tavolaro is essential, as he joined the project after abandoning his role as vice-chief of journalism at free-to-air television network Record TV. Headed by evangelical bishop and the founder of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, Edir Macedo, Record TV is closely linked to the evangelical right-wing in Brazil.

Douglas Tavolaro himself has ties to Mr. Macedo, having written his boss’s biography in 2007, and working as the executive producer on a subsequent biopic, “Nothing to Lose,” which was a box office success despite playing to half-empty cinemas on its opening week.     

Mr. Tavolaro has gone about recruiting several members from Record TV, raising suspicions that CNN Brasil will look to ally itself with the evangelical-run free-to-air channel, in a bid to dethrone undisputed market leaders TV Globo and its own 24-hour cable news channel, GloboNews.

CNN, a Fox News to call his own?

This link with Record is curious, as the TV station attempted to obtain a brand license from CNN back in 2015. At the time, WarnerMedia’s compliance controls blocked the deal because of Record’s proximity to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and the Brazilian Republican Party.

The backgrounds of both Mr. Menim and Mr. Tavolaro indicate that CNN Brasil will establish itself in a journalistic niche defending big business and the evangelical right, and as such, is likely to take a favorable stance toward the Jair Bolsonaro government.

During the presidential campaign, Record TV was Mr. Bolsonaro’s outlet of choice, seeking to gather the support of the evangelical community and oppose the hegemony of TV Globo. After refusing to attend a presidential debate on health reasons, the soon-to-be president gave an extensive interview to Record which was transmitted at the same time as his opponents faced off against one another live on another channel. Coincidentally or not, Douglas Tavolaro was responsible for arranging the interview.

bolsonaro record

Record has been a friendly outlet to Jair Bolsonaro

The week following the announcement that Rubens Menin and Mr. Tavolaro has obtained the CNN brand license, the two men were invited for a meeting at the president’s office, alongside Jair Bolsonaro and his son, Eduardo. The president gave his blessing to the new venture.

An unspoken alliance between the administration and CNN Brasil is in character for both sides. Rubens Menin, for example, has made most of his success from keeping a close proximity to the federal government. The magnate cozied up to the now-extinct Ministry of Cities during the Dilma Rousseff government and helped design the Minha Casa, Minha Vida social housing program—once it launched, his MRV Engenharia became the largest housebuilder in Brazil, responsible for half of all homes constructed in the program.

For Jair Bolsonaro, having a friendly media outlet would be another piece in his governance puzzle, and another way to emulate Donald Trump. The U.S. head of state enjoys the support of Fox News, while dismissing the rest of the mainstream media, largely opposed and critical to his administration, as “fake news.”

In Brazil, Mr. Bolsonaro has yet to be so lucky. While Record TV and other competitors SBT manage to provide him the right-wing news coverage he seeks, he has yet to find anything as large or as popular Fox News, and nothing strong enough to muscle out TV Globo. Early indications show that CNN Brasil could be exactly what he’s looking for.

Read the full story NOW!

BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.