Last year’s highly contested presidential elections, which were followed by riots in the capital, seem to have taken a toll on Brazilians’ trust in the news. Yet, conversely, the close leadership battle may have had a positive effect on the willingness of people to pay for online news content.
The showdown between the leftist candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the incumbent far-right president Jair Bolsonaro was by far the year’s biggest news event. It engaged the attention of millions of Brazilians and may have contributed to a 13-point decline in news avoidance, down from last year’s historical high (54%) to 41%.
Lula's victory by a slim margin in the run-off election held in October triggered a series of protests across the country that culminated in riots by Bolsonaro's supporters in Brasilia on 8 January. At least 16 journalists were attacked while trying to cover the invasion of the Supreme Court, the National Congress, and the presidential palace.1 More than 1,800 people were detained in connection with the vandalism of government buildings.2
President Lula blamed the invasion on a disinformation campaign which was ‘nurtured, organised, and disseminated’ through digital platforms and messaging apps. Telegram groups and channels were widely used, and many protesters live-streamed events. Lula called for the regulation of digital platforms to guarantee individual freedom of expression and society’s access to ‘trustworthy information’, and subsequently proposed regulation which would make platforms accountable for the content published by their users. At the time of writing the government is expected to send a bill to Congress.
The mainstream media were almost unanimous in condemning the 8 January attacks, labelling them as ‘anti-democratic acts’; demonstrators were referred to as ‘terrorists’, ‘vandals’, and ‘criminals’.
After the Bolsonaro years, when the media was routinely attacked by the president, relations have mostly gone back to normal. But the story is not yet finished – by the time Bolsonaro returned to Brazil on 30 March, there were six cases against him at the Supreme Court, 16 at the Superior Electoral Court, and an investigation into gifts he received from Saudi Arabia. He denies wrongdoing.
In 2022, the number of cases involving threats, harassment, or intimidation against journalists grew by 133%, according to the National Federation of Journalists. Despite this substantial rise, the same figures show actual verbal or physical attacks against journalists or news organisations falling from 430 cases in 2021 to 376 last year.
There has been a steep decline in the use of Facebook for news – down 12 points in two years to 35% this year – and it is now used for news less than Instagram. TikTok has seen more growth; the three best-selling dailies in the country (O Globo, Folha de S. Paulo, and O Estado de S. Paulo) have accounts, but still have a greater number of followers on Instagram and Twitter. The same is true for the free-to-air broadcasters. They are all interested in TikTok, but more interested in other networks where it is easier to promote existing content.
The fall in circulations for the ten best-selling newspapers has continued – a further 1.4% this year, as measured by Instituto Verificador de Comunicação. But this is not as bad as it has been in recent years, with sales perhaps being slightly buoyed by appetite for news in such a turbulent year. Digital subscriptions, which include PDF versions of the printed edition alongside website access, accounted for roughly seven out of every ten copies sold by these dailies in 2022. The daily O Fluminense, which was founded in 1878 and was the oldest newspaper in the state of Rio de Janeiro, suspended its circulation in March due to financial difficulties, but confounded expectations by returning to print publication.
Most advertising money still goes into free-to-air television, but spending on digital advertising continues to grow as now more than eight in ten Brazilians have access to the internet – up more than 5% in a year.
Brazil’s biggest media conglomerate, Globo, which operates multiple newspaper, magazine, and online portals launched a digital marketplace for selling programmatic advertising along its own content and also that of other media and entertainment companies.
With growing internet penetration, podcast listening rose slightly to 57%. Globo’s O Assunto is by far the most popular journalistic podcast in Brazil, with a weekly average of more than 533,000 downloads in February, according to Triton Digital. During the presidential campaign in 2022, both Lula and Bolsonaro were interviewed on the Flow Podcast, an independent show modelled on the Joe Rogan Experience and hosted by interviewers who made their name by streaming content about gaming. It has more than 5 million YouTube subscribers.
Financial journalist and former Reuters Institute Journalist Fellow
Consumption of traditional sources of news such as television and print have declined significantly over the last decade, but online news access has also dipped, with levels of news avoidance still higher than many other countries in our survey.
Pay for online news
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Overall trust in news continued downward in 2023, dipping from 48% one year earlier to 43%. That is consistent with the sharp decrease found just a few months after the also highly polarised presidential election won by Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. Criticism of journalists is high in Brazil, with nearly two-thirds of the respondents often hearing or seeing people criticising the press – in line with an environment of decaying trust and high polarisation.
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1 According to information compiled by two journalists' associations, Fenaj and Abraji.