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New Left Review 78, November-December 2012


Nations come to terms with their past, or—more often—fail to do so, in different ways. Few countries offer a more pointed case than Brazil. Famous for its own version of what in Italy became known as trasformismo—the seamlessly smooth mutation of persons and institutions into the opposite of what they once represented—Brazil has characteristically extended the pattern to events and memories too. In the texts that follow, Patrick Wilcken and Mario Sergio Conti explore two striking examples, each of strong contemporary reverberation. At the turn of the seventies, the military dictatorship ruling the country unleashed a draconian repression against attempts, quite small in scale, at resistance to it; torture and ‘disappearances’ becoming standard practices. Since democracy, Brazil—unlike any of its neighbours—has seen no truthful accounting of them, and no prosecutions of their authors. Wilcken traces the way the country’s political establishment, from Cardoso to Lula, colluded with an unrepentant army to sweep the crimes of the past under the rug of the safeguards the torturers wrote for themselves before they relinquished power. If a National Truth Commission has finally been set up, its findings remain uncertain and their immunity has yet to be revoked. Conti recounts how the first direct elections brought to power a politician, Fernando Collor, whose victory was enabled by the media as a barrier against the left, then brought down by its exposure of the unbridled corruption surrounding his conquest and occupation of the presidency. Editor at the time of Veja, the country’s leading news magazine, which played a central role in Collor’s downfall, Conti produced in Notícias do Planalto (1999) an extraordinary panorama—of a scope, penetration and detail without rival in contemporary literature on the media—of the relations between the press and power in the drama of Collor’s rise and fall. This year he added a postface reflecting on the changes that have supervened since: in the personal careers of the journalists who were investigative heroes then—now mostly marketeers or consultants, for mostly sleazy politicians—and in the general fate of journalism amid the progress of technologies of electronic communication and surveillance. Disappeared still unaccounted; torturers at large; a president hounded from office become senatorial ally of the worker he cheated of it; ace reporters, so many mercenary flaks. Brazil is not just these. But the country’s art of ‘finessing’ the past, as Wilcken aptly puts it, has not passed.

mario sergio conti


Brazil’s Changing Media Landscape

The young reporters who exposed Fernando Collor de Melo’s government in the early 1990s no longer cover news from the Planalto, Brazil’s presidential palace. They all have their reasons. A desire to do something different, the hope of earning more, growing older, family pressures; competition and the problems of the profession; career stagnation, disillusions and also illusions; political convictions or the lack of them; changes in power and in the country—all of these factors have been and still are important. But the common denominator among those who left journalism was that they went to work for companies—their own or belonging to others—that serve professional politicians, businessmen and institutions. They are now media consultants, public relations or advertising experts. They run media training courses. They write speeches. They polish the public image of their clients and praise their achievements. They manage crisis cabinets for eminent people who have been attacked in the press outlets they themselves once worked for. Those who once denounced the gap between marketing and reality have become marketing specialists.

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Mario Sergio Conti, ‘Rise of the Image-Makers’, NLR 78: £3

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