Has sensationalism on Brazilian TV gone too far?

. Feb 23, 2020
ratings sensationalist true-crime tv Record: all about the ratings.

Last Tuesday, TV host Luiz Bacci starred in of the most insensitive and sadistic scenes in Brazilian television in recent memory: during a live transmission, he informed a mother about the assassination of her own daughter, making the woman faint in front of the camera. Mr. Bacci is the anchor of a popular sensationalist TV program called Cidade Alerta, or “City in Alert” in which daily crimes and investigations are not just reported with tons of adjectives and drama, but also commonly known for the cruel habit of extracting tears of desperate mothers and the wrath of those harmed by disasters of the government’s inefficiency.

</p> <p>“We need you, ma’am, to be strong due to what we have to say here,” said the presenter. On social media, the program was the target of a massive outrage, with the general audience and journalists condemning Mr. Bacci&#8217;s attitude. But at the same time people criticized it, disappointed comments said it was just another day on the show.&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s a fact that the use of others&#8217; misfortune as an audience magnet is not new in Brazil. During the 1990s, when São Paulo lived a boom of violence and imprisonment, with a homicide rate at 51.23 per 100,000 inhabitants (88 percent more than now), these over-the-top shows were first appearing, quickly becoming a strong instrument of mass appeal.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a <a href="https://intervozes.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/guia_violacoes_volumei_web.pdf">report</a> from NGO Intervozes entitled “rights violations on the Brazilian media,” these shows have several harmful vices, such as ignoring the presumption of innocence, inciting crime and violence, exposing people and families, and spreading hate speech. Beyond that, in 2006, the Prosecution Office from the Federal District even filed a complaint against TV show “Barra Pesada” for its graphic content and language used.&nbsp;</p> <p>But the more these programs got grotesque, the more the public cried out for more, which left an easy road for these police programs.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Anti-human rights for politics?</h2> <p>The trajectory of journalist José Luiz Datena is a good example of how television can turn news into a spectacle. First a sports and politics radio reporter, he saw his career take off as he began to host <em>Cidade Alerta</em> on TV station Bandeirantes. He then was responsible for other shows, with equally bombastic titles, all following the same formula to grab the audience’s attention.&nbsp;</p> <p>Since 2018, however, Mr. Datena has been flirting with another interest: toying with dipping his toes into local politics, often hinting at intentions to be the future mayor of São Paulo. And since the election of President Jair Bolsonaro in 2018, he can’t find a better place and time to surf the wave of hate speech in politics. But is this reactionary wave here to stay?</p> <p>According to Communication Science Ph.D. Mariana Duccini, though it is still not possible to talk about the <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/06/18/killer-ratings-netflix-show-stranger-fiction/"><em>universalization </em>of these sensationalist scripts on television</a>, there is a visible and verifiable growth of this type of speech in everyday’s life.&nbsp;</p> <p>“This sensationalist aesthetic ended up as something common in the western media. And we don&#8217;t even have to fear its universalization since what is said today is scary enough in terms of communications,” she added.&nbsp;</p> <p>For Ms. Duccini, the rise of figures such as José Luiz Datena is strictly connected to an image-building process that appeals to the most indignant classes, usually affected by public security problems.&nbsp;</p> <p>“There is a very conscious construction of this public personality, based on thin values of justice, in the simplification of the cause-effect relations and the ‘good criminals are dead criminals’ ethos. It requires easy associations from the public, creating an idea that violence can be solved in a simple and violent way.”</p> <h2>The Eloá case</h2> <p>In 2008, Eloá Cristina Pimental was being held hostage by her girlfriend Lindemberg Alves, in an apartment in the city of Santo André, close to São Paulo. During her rescue, the Brazilian media turned all it&#8217;s attention to the case: one daytime journalist even spoke to the kidnapper for 30 minutes on live television.</p> <p>In the days following the kidnap, the same journalist invited a lawyer on to her show to discuss the case. While the viewing figures kept going up, whether out of indignation or curiosity, the expert made a bizarre prediction, saying Eloá would be released and that the couple “would be married at the end of it.” After more than 100 hours in captivity, she was shot and died from her injuries.&nbsp;</p> <p>This anti-journalistic behavior thrust sensationalist programming into the public debate for the first time, with widespread condemnation, even from fellow shock jocks such as Mr. Datena. However, little has changed in this genre of Brazilian television, which continues to break all kinds of ethical barriers in search of ratings.

Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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