Rede Globo & the 1989 Brazilian election

Beyond Citizen Kane, a documentary on the 1989 Brazilian election, argues that broadcaster Rede Globo manipulated the montage in favour of one of the two remaining candidates, writes Felipe Correa.

The case

In 1989, Brazil held its first democratic elections in 29 years, after a period of military dictatorship. In the second and final round, two candidates were disputing the presidency of the new democratic republic: Lula da Silva and Fernando Collor. Two days before the election, Rede Globo, by far the most popular broadcasting television in Brazil, broadcast a montage of the final debate between the two candidates during its prime time news programme, which reached 61 rating points.

In 1993, this event was discussed on Channel 4‘s documentary Beyond Citizen Kane (watch it here in Portuguese). The director Simon Hartog argues that Rede Globo manipulated the montage in favour of Collor. In response, Rede Globo tried unsuccesfully to dispute under British law Channel 4’s right to use short extracts from Globo programmes without permission.

The first public screening of the film in Brazil was to occur in São Paulo in 1994, but was mysteriously cancelled on the order of the state governor. During the late 1990s, copies of the documentary had limited circulation in Brazil. However, with the internet boom in the 2000s, the film was uploaded by netizens and is now widely available.

In 2011, José Bonifácio Sobrinho, Rede Globo’s former vice president of operations, openly affirmed that Roberto Marinho, the founder and owner of the organisation, had given an explicit order to broadcast a manipulated montage in favour of Collor. Bonifácio Sobrinho argued that Rede Globo was free to edit the debate in whatever way they wanted. On its official website, Rede Globo defends itself stating that they used “the same editing criteria as they would use for a football match: select the best moments of each team”.

Although the outcome of the elections cannot be entirely attributed to this episode, many argued that the manipulated montage influenced the decision of many voters, and that it may have helped Collor’s victory over Lula, as the difference was a small margin of votes: 49.94% for Collor, 44.23% for Lula.

Author opinion

In theory, private media should be able to broadcast any content as long as it is under the law. However, one needs to bear in mind that Brazil was, and still is, a country with a high level of media ownership concentration, lacking diverse and alternative media. In such context, a small number of television stations have a great impact on public debates. One can argue that Rede Globo was within its rights to freely express its support for a candidate. However, the broadcaster claimed to be neutral, but manipulated the montage and broadcasted it strategically two days before the election, reaching almost the whole country.

Although Rede Globo is a private broadcasting company, it needs a public licence to be legally active. In my opinion, in a context of massive concentration of media ownership, broadcasting companies should not be able to freely edit debates of public interest in such a distorted way. This concentration of media ownership should also be tackled by laws fostering more open and diverse media, which could help voters to make a well-informed decision.

- Felipe Correa

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Comments (5)

Automated machine translations are provided by Google Translate. They should give you a rough idea of what the contributor has said, but cannot be relied on to give an accurate, nuanced translation. Please read them with this in mind.

  1. I think that the right to express one’s opinion – referred to as the freedom of speech – and the freedom of press are to be seen as two different rights or liberties. If a broadcasting company claims to be neutral, which would be the use of the freedom of press it may not support one of several opinions by broadcasting a manipulated montage at the same time. Thus by claiming to be neutral and at the same time supporting Fernando Collor, Rede Globo deceived their spectators – an act which, in my opinion, may have influenced the outcome of the elections in 1989. However there is and should not be any necessity of clearly separating the freedom of press and the freedom of speech – think about what yellow press does every day! The author is right, stating that a company as Rede Globo, even though it is private media, needs a public licence to be legally active. I welcome the idea of legal constraint of manipulation by the media, as long as there is a massive concentration of media ownership. Yet I think one should also keep in mind that constraining the rights of any media company regarding their own material is always an encroachment with the freedom of speech and must therefore be legitimated by outstandingly important reasons. In Brazil of 1989, the need of neutral informative media to allow an unbiased construction of the state would have been such a reason!

  2. The media has and will always have a big role in a country’s economy,life,education, and political matters.Fernando Color was the worse president Brazil could ever had in its history.And this conection among Fernando and the broadcasting television Globo further prove.It was a matter of time until this trap started to collapse.After two years running Brazil,brazilians claimed for Fernando’s impeachment.It is clear that Fernando and Globo were focused and seeking only for the money Brazil was making so widely.Fernando brought businesses to Brazil but at the same destroyed Brazil’s economy.Poverty swept Brazil.Media is supposed to inform people wisely,casting well-informed news and not being controled by government decisions.

  3. Grande parte das pessoas sao manipuladas pelo que esta na midia no momento. Muitas pessoas acabam nao expressando ou melhor dizendo nem pensando em uma opiniao propria . Entao fica meu comentario e a dica nem sempre seja tao influenciado pela midia .

  4. A mídia tem, e sempre vai ter, uma grande influência nos tele-espectadores, principalmente se for uma importante midia como a Rede Globo. Na minha opinião ela influenciou na votação de 1989. O jeito que a edição foi feita, foi em prol do Collor, sem duvidas nenhuma. Ainda mais o fato de ser apenas 2 dias antes das eleições, que induz os tele-espectadores que poderiam estar com duvida em quem votar, a votar no candidato que falou melhor, que deu incentivos para um Brasil melhor.

  5. In my opinion this case is yet another example of what media ownership can do and its ability to distort or provide news from angles that are completely to their advantage and benefits. As the author stated If Rede Globo was exercising free speech then it is entitled to support the candidate of their choice. However, I think one has to consider how Rede Globo is the biggest channel in Brasil and the most reliable one by the population. When they claimed they were being neutral by choosing the best moments of each candidate in the debate I think they stated that in order to abstain themselves from further problems. The broadcast of this debate was watched by many many people and strategically releasing it just 2 days before the election seems like a strategy to sway voters to vote for Collor and not Lula. By having the debate only 2 days before the elections it made peoples agenda setting be focused on Collor and with the short time frame between the debate and the election made it very easily for voters to change their votes. Finally as the margin between the two candidates was very small, the debate in my opinion could have heavily contributed to Collor being elected and this case just proves how corporations and media are able to influence on things as greatly as politics and who is in power in a country.

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