Being optimistic in dark times

It is not that my book sees total progress in Brazil, but it is fairly optimistic when it comes to the progress and diversification of the country’s media environment in the last decades.

I interviewed two dozens of media producers, all based across that immense territory: from the Amazonian area to the very hot northeast; from the populous southeast to the Agro-industrial centre. I also analysed content produced from a myriad of small websites during three years. From the transition of the ill-fated Rousseff’s government to the disastrous impeachment and the ascension of Michel Temer to power.

My first goal (then a PhD research) was to capture the changing political position of the populations living in the country’s peripheries (favelas, suburbs, and the vast countryside) after nearly two decades of a perceived improvement in their quality of life: they now had access to credit, could buy homes and furniture, but to what extent could they also communicate as the rest of society?

My hypothesis was that such new socioeconomic conditions would be enough to bring forward a stream of political contention that was at best ignored by the commercial media, at worst ignored because the periphery never really mattered to the mainstream society.

What I found after four years into my research was that, in the periphery, media producers could voice in their outlets some kind of truth that many people have underestimated. Primarily blogs, social media, they started to come up in the media and as “the media”, opening a path to dialogue with mainstream actors, but also among themselves, between regions and communities. In other words, their pattern of communication has changed.

Not only that, they showed that they could recognise the democratic infrastructure of the country: its institutions, the media, and demonstrated confidence in freedom of expression to speak truth to power. I called this network of outlets and especially their maturity and responsibility toward democracy, the “peripheral media.”

All was well in this narrative until dramatic changes in the political scenario. Stormy clouds brought a successful case for Rousseff’s impeachment, serial accusations posed to the Vice-President in charge, and the worst corruption scandals in history were in the global media. The public opinion saw new facts conducting then reliable politicians straight into jail. The rising appeal of right-wing roadshow of justice did not necessarily unmake a panorama of media development that was good.

On the one hand, one cannot call “development” a string of fake news that went down as “news” in the last months. On the other, there is a big picture that informs us of the inclusion of interlocutors, tastes, and voices that has no parallel in the country’s history. What I am saying is that social change should, wishfully, come along with peace and social cohesion, but sometimes it doesn’t. .

I finished off my research before the rise of Jair Bolsonaro, whereas I worked in a country that was already divided. Back then, he was another failed politician with bizarre ideas broadcasted during the impeachment, but which one would never see implemented in normal conditions. Today, he is poised to conquer mainstream society and the periphery with controversial ideas, but largely conservatism in its return. It might not be the more progressive layer of the periphery I researched that voted for him, but there are surely representatives of the favelas, suburbs and the countryside that I researched, and which definitely supported him to some extent.

Even on top of such political choice, we should, still, face their ability of inclusion and decision as a positive outcome of recent Brazil.