On Saturday, tens of thousands of women took to the streets in all 27 Brazilian states (and 63 cities across the world) to protest far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro. The protests were organized through social media and were the largest rallies of this electoral season. We can’t know for sure how many people attended, as the Military Police – which provides security for street demonstrations in Brazil – uncharacteristically refused to publish the estimated attendance.
Instead of contextualizing the significance of the biggest movements ever organized by Brazilian feminist groups, TVs chose to adopt a more bureaucratic coverage – due to their so-called neutrality. That led stations such as Globo and Record – the two biggest in the country – to allow the same amount of time to demonstrations against Mr. Bolsonaro (which attracted hundreds of thousands) and rallies in favor of the candidate (which drew no more than a few hundred people).
You can see for yourself.
On its main news program on Saturday, Record dedicated only 30 seconds to the subject – without a single reporter on the ground. Viewers were just given a voice-over from the anchor describing where the demonstrators met.
On Jornal Nacional, the most important news program in Brazilian TV, the Women’s March against Mr. Bolsonaro got roughly four and a half minutes of airtime. But, like Record, the broadcast was focused only on where the protests happened. No contextualization, no interviews, no reporters on site.
How significant was the Women’s March?
Saturday’s demonstrations epitomized this electoral season: traditional politics taking the back seat to social media engagement. The wave of protests came after a group of women created the Facebook group “Women United Against Bolsonaro” – which now has over 3.5 million members. Women from all over the country spread the hashtag #EleNão (Not Him), which gained international notoriety and the support of pop stars such as Madonna.
The relevance of the movement signals toward a radical shift in how political mobilization works in Brazil. Parties traditionally scrambled to form broad coalitions, which would guarantee them a lot of TV and radio airtime – and, as a consequence, more votes.
2018, however, represents a paradigm shift. The very rise of Jair Bolsonaro is a testament to that. The former Army captain has no partisan structure behind him, therefore almost no TV or radio airtime. His only platform is social media – a battleground he controls like few other politicians – which was enough to get him to 28 percent of voting intentions.
Why did Brazilian TV neglect the march?
Brazil’s media landscape is highly concentrated in the hands of a few traditional moguls. The Media Ownership Monitoring report, carried out by the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), looked at Brazil’s 26 biggest media groups and concluded that 70 percent of Brazil’s TV audience is captured by four groups alone, with TV Globo retaining half of the share.
So, if Globo and Record choose not to publicize something, it limits the reach of information for several groups of people. RSF called the high level of concentration a “threat to freedom of speech.”
Edir Macedo, the leader of the evangelical church that runs Record, has recently declared his support to Mr. Bolsonaro. Globo doesn’t openly support a candidate but has reportedly met with Mr. Bolsonaro – but not yet with Fernando Haddad, the Workers’ Party candidate.
Given the past of Brazil’s media moguls, which supported the dictatorship and admittedly tampered with the coverage of debates in 1989, left-wing groups questioned the rationale behind the weekend’s coverage.