Demonstrations in the country’s major cities challenge and set in motion talks between the government, legislators and leaders of the protest movement in an attempt to interpret and pave the way for the demands made by the citizens. The most evident demand is the right to commute which at present is hindered by the public transportation’s prices and poor standard and cars taking over Brazil’s roads and city centres. This was one of the items on the agenda for President Dilma Rousseff’s meeting with demonstrators, mayors and state governors on Monday 24th June.
However, this is not the only item that the crowds have put forward. The people of Brazil have expressed their anger about the standard of services that should be guaranteed public and citizenship rights as well as against the political and financial corruption of Brazil’s elite. They are starting to touch a sore spot. They have gathered in the streets to show the wider society clearly what their grievances are. One of them is the need for democratic media in Brazil to prevent it from manipulating public opinion as seen last week. This topic is becoming recurring on social networks and public events. However, it remains masked on the coverage that mass media is giving of the events.
After the nationwide protests, which involved all sorts of shouts and protests, spontaneous meetings are under way in public squares. They bring the culture of collective construction, rather than a hierarchical one, and the right of individuals to exercise their freedom of speech. Other meetings use the same the methods that have been used by rights activists for years and prepare for the objective discussions with ready-made agendas. These meetings represent different cultures of defiance which are gradually turning the squares into public forums.
On Sunday 23rd June, demonstrators in Brasília spent hours in the sun discussing their priorities, with human rights, media and communication at the core. The same topics came up in Belo Horizonte, among other public rights that people want to have guaranteed.
On Tuesday 25th June it was São Paulo’s turn. Demonstrators scheduled a public meeting in Roosevelt Square to discuss the role of the media in the protests. Initially the media reacted to the protests by condemning them. Later, they “befriended” the protesters and gave them news coverage.
This coverage was clearly guided by the objective of giving exposure to the protests against political corruption as well as calling congress and the federal government for action - these two bodies are engaged in a political dispute ahead of the next elections. Nothing was mentioned about the shouting demands for a new political order where few cannot speak for many, as it is the case of the media in Brazil, which is controlled by half a dozen families.
Media echoed the catchphrase of protests “the people have woken up” (o povo acordou). Obviously, it did not share demonstrators also shouting “the people are not stupid” (o povo não é bobo), because everyone in Brazil knows what comes next. Television broadcasted demonstrators putting up supportive flags outside demonstrations, but did not show people on the streets shouting “Globo Network Out” (Fora Rede Globo). (O Globo is Brazil’s largest television network).
Protests against corruption target the same big businesses controlled by the elite who exploit transport, take over roads and control mass media and public radio channels. For this to be shown in the media, social networks users who watch television in order to keep updated want laws which defend the use of internet and democratise communication. However, the government and congress, afraid of the power of concentrated media, are delaying these measures. Yet again, the government is tempted to listen to the voices on the streets through the filters of mass media. Otherwise, it would not have tried to calm them down by means of an interview to the magazine Veja of the Communications Minister, who criticised those in favour of a new regulatory framework for communications.
In the quest for answers, this is perhaps the wrong kind of conversation with the wrong interlocutor. Government itself knows that media filters did not manage to defeat people’s will before. It was people’s will which had candidates committed to bring about real change (Lula and Dilma) elected over right wing candidates.
People are unhappy because these liberal governments are failing to make the profound changes they could be making. Communication falls under these changes. In this climate of pressure, protest, talks, public gatherings, the government, congress and state governors need to ponder very well whether they are going to respond to the protest movements about their proposals and rights or to the media, which manipulates and stirs up resentment among multitudes.
In her address to the nation on Friday 21st June, the president recalled how her generation fought hard so that the voice of the streets could be heard. "Many were persecuted, tortured and died for this. The voice of the street must be heard and respected and it can’t be confused with the noise and violence carried out by some troublemakers. I am the president of all Brazilian people, those who demonstrate as well as those who don’t. The direct message on the streets is peaceful and democratic”, she said, quite rightly.
The voice on the streets cannot be confused either with the manipulation of a minority who controls mass media in Brazil. Bring on the public meetings!
Photo: Popular Assembly for Media Democratization/, in São Paulo, por Mídia Ninja