It’s almost a consensus among analysts, journalists, and scholars that the 2018 presidential elections changed politics in Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign relied heavily on social media and, until the second round of voting, he had very little time on TV. Channels are obligated to reserve free daily slots to candidates during the electoral period. The president-elect did not participate in almost any of the traditional TV debates and avoided being interviewed by news shows that were not aligned with him. Always a staple in Brazilian politics, television was seemingly dead after the 2018 race. Or was it?

A poll published by Kantar IBOPE Media shows that it is too soon to bury the so-called “idiot box”. In the metropolitan areas of the country, 93 percent of respondents said they watch TV regularly. More than that, Brazilian are spending more hours in front of their TV sets than in previous years. In the last decade, the average time spent watching TV rose from 8 hours and 18 minutes a day to 9 hours and 17 minutes. This is a growth of 12 percent. The result goes against common sense that people are turning away from the big screen at home to spend more time on the smaller ones (smartphones, tablets, and other devices).


Average time watching TV, per family (first semester)

Despite the rise of smartphones, Brazilians are watching more TV


According to Adriana Favaro, a director at Kantar Ibope Media, the growth of the internet was beneficial to TV channels. Shows are seeking ways to engage with the audience through social media and the outlets publish additional content on other platforms, said Favaro in a press release. Another number shows that television is the go-to source of information. A poll by Target Group Index revealed that 71 percent of Brazilians watch TV to be informed. Meanwhile, 65 percent consider it a source for entertainment.

These numbers are not very different from what the 2016 Media Poll, held by the Brazillian government, found two years ago. Television is the platform of choice for information for the majority of the country: 63 percent. Social media is in second place with only 26 percent of preference. Those who get their news from TV tend to trust it: 54 percent say they believe the reports most of the times. The confidence level on the internet is much lower: 20 percent.

Citizen’s trust in this medium is very strong: 56 percent say they trust TV news and 67% find that videos made by brands they already know are reliable. According to the report, this shows the strength of the traditional outlets, who have been making efforts to be more present online. More than half of Brazilians (51 percent) read news online using apps and sites that belong to conventional TV channels.


Despite the rise of smartphones, Brazilians are watching more TV


Citizens are aware of fake news

Another poll, by Ibope Conecta, shows that most are aware that they can’t trust everything they see online. 90 percent of internet users say that have received fake news. Of those, 76 percent say the content was false or misleading information, 57 percent, old news disguised as new, 45 percent received content that was manipulated. Facebook (80 percent) and WhatsApp (75 percent) were pointed out as sources of misinformation. Users tend to trust news portals (66 percent) more than Facebook (5 percent) – or even their relatives (4 percent).

This data paints a picture that does not match what has been said about the influence of false content on public opinion. Apparently, a significant part of the citizens knows they are supposed to trust credible sources and suspect the internet. More than that, they are already doing that on a daily basis.

Also, maybe the internet does not have the apocalyptic power that some suggest this platform has on democracies. It is undeniable that online communications have changed many things in the way we consume and exchange information (news included). But maybe before blaming the internet entirely for the demise of the public debate, we might want to take a closer look at what is going on in the “traditional” media.

Bolsonaro’s election is the milestone of a shift in Brazilian politics, sure, but his political success is far from being a completely new phenomenon.

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SocietyNov 23, 2018

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BY Diogo Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a social scientist and journalist based in São Paulo.