Brazil has been among the nations worst affected by Coronavirus – with the second highest death toll after the US by early 2021. The media have been highly critical of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis, which included a series of false statements about a disease he has described as ‘a little flu’. The media have, however, also come under attack.
Brazil’s most influential newspapers, including O Globo, Folha de S. Paulo, and O Estado de S. Paulo, criticised Bolsonaro’s repeated statements which downplayed the pandemic. In particular they highlighted his COVID scepticism, his prioritising of the Brazilian economy over social distancing, and the federal government’s delay in ordering vaccines.
Free-to-air TV networks – still very popular – have been split on the issue. Some, like Rede TV and Record TV, seem to be more positive towards the administration. But Globo, the largest TV broadcaster, has strongly made the case for following WHO recommendations. The press generally supports following a scientific approach.
The president has made misleading claims about Coronavirus and treatments, including promoting hydroxychloroquine which he said helped cure him, and he has also criticised mask-wearing. In November he stated he would not take any vaccine.1 More than 400,000 Brazilians had died by May 2021.
In March, Twitter removed two of the president’s posts which included videos where he could be seen walking among dozens of supporters and attacking stay-at-home measures. The company said the videos violated its rules. The next day, Facebook and Instagram removed similar posts – Mark Zuckerberg said it was an example of Facebook removing false information. By 13 April 2021, Aos Fatos (To the Facts), an independent fact-checking agency, said it had identified 2,805 false or misleading statements made by President Bolsonaro during his 833 days in office. The president has also attacked the press aggressively. A report by the National Federation of Journalists in January 2021 blamed his rhetoric for a rise in attacks on journalists. In 2020 it counted 428 verbal and physical assaults, including two homicides – the highest number since the early 1990s. The president himself was responsible for 175 of the verbal attacks, it said.2
The Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters said a survey had found 7,900 posts were being published online every day which contained derogatory language towards the press. Reporters Without Borders said that Bolsonaro, along with his relatives and some government officials, had created an atmosphere of ‘hatred and distrust toward journalism in Brazil’.
COVID-19 hit the advertising market hard, and seems to have accelerated the migration to digital platforms. Overall circulations of the ten best-selling newspapers fell by 9.2%, but the digital proportion of their readership rose to 64% in the first half of 2020. Virtually all papers have tightened their paywalls, but many have also been offering digital subscriptions at significant discounts. The shift might also have something to do with readers being concerned – at least in the early stages of the pandemic – about the risk of infection from paper. O Globo reassured readers that this was unlikely if simple hygiene measures, such as washing hands, were taken.
Commercial television broadcasters are still the main force in the country's media landscape but have continued to lose ground to social media as a source of news. Free-to-air TV’s share of the advertising market remained stable at 51.9% but Brazilians are showing themselves unwilling to pay for online news, and paid TV lost more than 800,000 subscribers as the trend of cord-cutting continued3.
Conversely, streaming services, led by Netflix, had a boom year as people spent more time at home. Leading TV station Globo, which in 2015 launched its own streaming service, Globoplay, showing a combination of telenovelas, sport, and international programming, has now introduced more than 80 of its podcasts onto the platform as it extended into audio. It also announced partnerships with independent content producers to diversify its podcast portfolio.
A significant investment came with the launch of the Brazilian version of CNN as a paid 24-hour news channel. The Atlanta-based network licensed its brand to a new Brazilian company led by journalist Douglas Tavolaro and billionaire entrepreneur Rubens Menin, which at launch said it would be hiring 400 journalists around the world. Almost all of its programmes are Brazilian-made. Tavolaro left the venture after 12 months.
Financial journalist and former Reuters Institute Journalist Fellow
In 2021 we changed the panel providers for our online survey in Brazil, as part of continued efforts to make our data as accurate as possible. Although we have used the same quotas on age, gender, and region, attempts to interpret change from 2020 to 2021 should be avoided. See Methodology for further information.
Pay for online news
Share news via social, messaging or email
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Trust in news in search
Trust in news on social media
The uncertainty brought by the health crisis apparently strengthened people’s appetite for reliable information. Overall trust in the news is relatively high by international standards with trust much lower in news published on social media. TV brands tend to be most trusted along with local and regional newspapers.