Globalization and the Image
O Globo and PUC - Rio de Janeiro
Globalization and the Brazilian Press
Please do not copy, quote or circulate without author's permission.
When the images of the towers of the World Trade Center on fire, transmitted by CNN TV with the headline America under attack, spread over the TV devices of O Globo office, around 10 a.m. on September 11th, in Rio de Janeiro, reporters and editors were astonished by the news, but they knew exactly what to do. The director of journalism, Merval Pereira, had just arrived from New York, and at 4 p.m. the team had produced an extra edition, full of pictures and translations of articles from international agencies (specially Reuters and Associated Press) and from American newspapers on line (specially The New York Times and The Washington Post). One month later, on a Sunday afternoon, October 7th, when the American attack on Afghanistan was confirmed by president George W. Bush on CNN TV, the journalists at O Globo were interrupted in their routine and mechanical reactions by the image of Osama bin Laden, with the logo of Al-Jazeera TV, from Qatar. And then they realize that CNN TV, which now belongs to AOL Time Warner group, was not the main source of information about the war to the world, not anymore.
Everybody remembered the three reporters of CNN TV _ Peter Arnett, Bernard Shaw and John Holliman _ that sent to the world, in 1991, the images of the bombs falling over Bagdad, as they were seen from the 9th stage of the Al-Rashid Hotel. Then, very interested in the international audience, the president of Irak, Saddam Hussein, gave to CNN reporters the most sophisticated technological ways (with electrical and telephone connections) to do their job and Peter Arnett was the only one authorized to stay in Bagdad, with the compromise to submit all information about the Golf War to the Irak censorship. From then on, CNN TV was the most important channel of news in North Corea, en 1994, or in Serbia and Belgrade, recently. And the TV channel became one of the strongest symbols of the American culture, just like Hollywood, Coke and McDonalds.
On that October 7th, Tessyir Allouni, the correspondent of Al-Jazeera TV, was alone in Kabul, as the only journalist who had permission to send images of the green lights of the bombs that crossed the dark skies of the Afghanistan ´s capital. Al-Jazeera remained the only channel to send images of the Taliban territories. CNN made a deal with the Arab station to translate their reports and, under the pressure of Bush administration, assume the compromise with FBI and CIA to submit the material about the war against terrorism to censorship, as well as the biggest TV channels in USA. In the meantime, after being accused to speak in the name of Taliban government, the journalists from Al-Jazeera TV have interviewed the British Prime-minister Tony Blair and received the offer of an interview with George W. Bush.
The American defeat in the media war was clear by the feeling that even the images of the Boeings exploding the towers in New York sent by a CNN camera to the world were carefully planned by the terrorists of Al-Qaeda to show the very beginning of the jihad. Arabs, living in a country where media is banished and where the prohibition of images by Islamism is strictly obeyed, turned out to be masters of the uses of images. And then the reasons to submit the journalistic production to censorship make no sense at all since every image could be used to send messages of the war. The Association of Brazilian Press protested against the censorship and so did the National Association of Media Owners. They were protesting together for the first time, since the end of military dictatorship in Brazil (usually marked by the direct presidential election in 1989). This was the beginning of a sequence of events that changed the relationship between Brazilian newspapers and the American media and proved USA had lost the monopoly of information.
The American monopoly of information uses to be one of the most frequent translations for the expression globalization of news. This monopoly is daily experienced in newspapers production all around the world and measured by the powerful influence of CNN TV and of some of the biggest American newspapers, remarkably The New York Times (1,2 million copies, is published by the most influential media group in USA, with 20 periodicals, radio stations and a news service with 650 clients in 53 countries), The Washington Post (another huge group with journals, magazines, radio and TV stations in USA, including Newsweek and Los Angeles Times), USA Today (the biggest newspaper group in USA with 92 daily periodicals) and The Wall Street Journal (a group with 19 daily journals and with participation on WNYC). The most powerful Brazilian media companies have contracted the news service of these press publications. That means the American style became a pattern for Brazilian journalism, on TV, on Internet or on the press media.
In this sense, globalization also means the standardization of news, a process that began with the increasing influence of international agencies (mainly Reuters and Associated Press) after Second World War and that is now a world phenomenon with the leadership of these biggest American media groups. In this sense, the standardization of news is part of a largest political process, the standardization of world culture, with local popular or traditional forms driven out or dumped down to make way for American television, American music, food, clothes and films. The cultural standardization is seen, then, as the very heart of globalization. And this fear that USA models are replacing everything else now spills over from the sphere of culture into economic and social ones: for this process is clearly, at one level, the result of economic domination. At a deeper level, the anxiety becomes a social one: the fear that specifically ethno-national ways of life will be destroyed themselves.
In economic terms, globalization is defined as the process by which transnational corporations increased their market share, conquer preponderance over national governments, spreading a new form of capitalism around the world. The huge expansion of finance capital markets has been a spectacular feature of this new economic order and there has yet been no comparable globalization of the labor movement to respond to this. The destructive speculation on foreign currencies seen over recent years signals the absolute dependency of developing nation-states on foreign capital, in the form of loans, supports and investments: this is the case of Latin America, specially Brazil and Argentina. The most fearful side of the new economic order is the fact that instant transfers of capital can impoverish continental regions. And USA has resisted to all the attempts to introducing controls on international transfers of capital.
To talk about globalization in technological terms means to define how the new communications technology and the information revolution have their impact on industrial production and organization, and on the marketing of goods. Globalization also means the threatening of the extinction of local cultures, by this technological revolution. The standardization of information means the abolishing of differences.
An entire industry has come into being to design commodities images and to strategize their sale: advertising has become a fundamental mediation between culture and economics, and it is surely to be numbered among the myriad forms of aesthetic production. Guy Debord long ago described the capitalist society as a society of images, consumed aesthetically. He designated this seam that separates culture from economics and, at the same time, connects the two. Fredric Jameson adds to this description another one: the transformation of politics, ideas, or even emotions and private life into commodities; and alerts that this production of goods and ideas today is also an process of aestheticization in other words, the commodity, too, is now aesthetically consumed. Information is commodity and even the news of the terrible attack to World Trade Center, in New York, was aesthetically produced by media and consumed by millions of spectators and readers around the world.
So, when one tries to define the globalization of news, there are different meanings of the same process. It has to do with the transformation of the daily production of news by reporters and editors and also with the cultural perceptions of the effects of this production over local values and forms of lives. The globalization of information is not then a kind of one-way street. It has to do with the impact American media industry have over the Brazilian media market and also with the forms of resistance and transformation and conformation and despair that appears in the fabric of daily life. So, the question is not so much whether the consumption of news is part of the social process as whether it signals the end of what we have once understood the social process to be. Consumption itself individualizes and atomizes. And, as Jameson comments, indeed daily life, the everyday or the quotidian, does not begin to be theoretically and philosophically, sociologically, conceptualized until the very moment when it begins to be destroyed in this fashion. And maybe at the turn of the century the fabric of daily press has also been destroyed, as least the way we used to know it.
On that September 11, the very first news of the attack to New York City and Washington produced by Brazilian media was not a local TV report (as it used to be), but an Internet one. The site Globonews.com was the first to publish it, and won the media competition, even with Globo TV (the biggest TV channel in Brazil) and Globonews TV, a Brazilian cable channel that copies the model of CNN TV. In Brazil, on that day, Internet was faster than TV. It has to do with the fact that Globonews.com was designed to be the convergence of the production of all information produced by The Globo conglomerate, the most powerful media group in Brazil, which includes TV channels, newspapers, magazines, radio stations and Internet sites. To put money on Internet journalistic sites is not a good business in Brazil, not yet. The percentage of the population with access to a computer does not justify the investment. But all the newspapers companies created their sites of news because of the political agenda: the Brazilian Congress will vote on the proposition to open the media market for foreign competitors, until next year. The biggest American and European media companies are interested in participate of this market and the newspapers with an Internet site would prove to have more gains of productivity and the best perspectives of future positions of the media market.
For the biggest newspapers companies of the two largest cities in Brazil _ Rio de Janeiro (12 million habitants) and São Paulo (16 million habitants) _ the news of the American war against terrorism was a great opportunity to accelerate the process of unification of the production, with significant gains of productivity. The war was also an opportunity to increase the number of readers of the newspapers and also of the sites of journalism at Internet. The principal newspapers had extra editions on that September 11th and they all sold out in the afternoon. Those editions were produced in a very similar way to the American one, publishing the some pictures sold by the agencies. In the first two weeks after the attack to New York, articles of William Safire and Thomas Friedman, both from The New York Times, were published almost daily in the four biggest middle class newspapers of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. And main reports of The New York Times and The Washington Post were translated to Portuguese. The war news multiplied the number of readers.
Recent market researches indicate that in the developed countries the periodicals have reached the point of saturation of the growth of the number of readers, and that they have stabilized, when do not tend to decrease gradually. The situation is different in emergent countries as Brazil, where an enormous contingent of urban population still can increase the reading public, if its standards of education and consumption improve. The indices of circulation of newspapers reached by the Brazilian press suggest that this already is occurring. According to the National Association of Journals (ANJ, the patrons association), the circulation of newspapers in all the country grew 21% between 1991 and 1996. If to take as starting point the first civil government after the military dictatorship (which was elected by the Congress representatives in 1985), until 1997 the circulation of four periodicals of national influence magnified 67%; of two main magazines, 135%. In the nineties, still according to the National Association of Journals the daily selling of all Brazilian newspapers increased almost 70%, beginning the decade with 4.500.000 exemplars/day and reaching 7.200.000 in 2000. But this is still a very small number, in a country with 160 million habitants, 80% able to read.
In Rio de Janeiro, the same media company (Infoglobo, part of the Globo conglomerate) publishers the two biggest newspapers: Extra (created in 1998 and produced for popular classes) turned out to be the bestseller (341.000 copies daily from Mondays to Saturdays; 493.000 copies sold on Sundays) and O Globo (a middle-class newspaper founded in 1925, 276.000 copies daily, except on Sundays, with 470.000). that used to have 52.2% of market share (that means 420.000 exemplars sold everyday from Monday to Saturday and 800.000 on Sundays). The market is still disputed by two other big adversaries: O Dia (a popular newspaper that has 258.000 copies sold daily, except on Sundays, with 490.000) and Jornal do Brasil (the oldest one, founded in 1899, produced for middle-class public, with less than 100.000 sold each day, including Sundays).
In São Paulo, the biggest newspapers are Folha de S. Paulo (488.000 copies sold every day) and O Estado de S. Paulo (432.000 each day). Both are produced for a middle class public. The publications for popular classes are Diario de São Paulo (110.000 copies daily; the Diario belongs to Infoglobo group since April 2001) and Agora (around 120.000 copies daily; published by the group of Folha de S.Paulo). These are the numbers of June 2001 given from the Institute of Verification of Newspapers Circulation (IVC), which measures the increase of copies sold every month.
The news of the attack to World Trade Center and to the Pentagon was reported differently on these Brazilian newspapers. But the main differences appeared only after the last week of September. Until then, the headlines of CNN were reproduced in those papers and translated to Portuguese: America under attack. The similarities between the American newspapers editions and the Brazilian ones were astonishing. On September 19th, O Globo published a front page with the some pictures and a very similar design of the front page of The New York Times. Both published the photographs of the first victims of the fall of the towers. And the biggest weekly Brazilian magazines, Veja, IstoÉ and Época did the some. There was only one America, Brazil was part of it, and the continent was under attack. And for the very first time the president of the United States published an advertising page, with a signed letter and the thanks of the American government for the Brazilian people, by supporting the idea of a war against terrorism (this support was shown by the first public surveys).
Two weeks later, at the end of September, it was very clear that the economic consequences of the attack would have a tremendous impact over Latin American countries. The image of an unified America was broken: there were two different Americas: the North was not the Latin one. At the beginning of October, the some war that had had a positive effect for increasing the number of readers turned out to be a disaster for the advertising market. And that had an important impact over Brazilian newspapers market share and over the money they had to spend with the reproduction of the USA press information.
The last two years, eight new national newspapers were created to dispute the market, all of them with more than 100.000 daily copies. And the ranking of the newspapers changed drastically: in 1997, O Globo, a middle-class publication, had 52% of the market share; in 2001, the media company, Infoglobo, still has 52% of market share, but divided between O Globo and Extra. In September 2001, Extra and Folha de S.Paulo disputed dramatically the national leadership among newspapers. The numbers of IVC indicated the winner was "Folha de S.Paulo", that sold 542.000 units, in average, to the Sundays, in September (whose month is still the last bulletin divulged by the institute). During the week, Extra beat its main competitor in Rio de Janeiro, "O Dia", but not the national one, Folha de S. Paulo. The numbers of the IVC indicate an average of 258.000 sold units of "O Dia" in the working days of September, against 341.000 of Extra _ 32,2% more .To Sundays, the average of the Extra was of 510.000 units in September and of "O Dia" 490.000. "O Globo" closed the month with average of sales to the Sundays of 452.000 units and, in the working days, of 300.000. "Jornal do Brasil" had circulation of 104.000 copies on Sundays and 81.000 in the working days in the same month.
September of 2001 was the month that marked a turning point to the dispute between popular and middle class press in the Brazilian market. With less than four years been published, Extra has reached the biggest number of readers amongst all newspapers edited in Brazil. The information was published in the end of September, in the last research of the Marplan Institute, a company established in 1958, that it is reference in market research and behavior of the consumer. The last reports of the Marplan Institute pointed a spectacular growth in the number of readers of Extra. In the second trimester of 1998, still in its first months of publication, Extra had already 1.278.000 readers.. One year later, the number went up for 2.188.000, a 71% increase. In the first trimester of 2001, Extra had 2.979.000 readers against 2.579.000 of its main competitor in Rio, O Dia. >From April to June, Extra went up to 3.040.000, growth of 2%, while O Dia fell for 2.225.000, a fall of 14%. Leader of reading in all the paths, the advantage of Extra is still bigger when the matching is made in the popular universe of readers, its area of performance. While Extra reached 3.040.000 readers in one trimester, the main publications of the sector achieved a smaller public. The popular newspaper "O Dia" reached 2.225.000 readers; Diário de S.Paulo had 1.039.000 and Agora had 982.000 readers.
The dispute around the national ranking of newspapers shows the drastic change of the composition of the public reader: a newspaper produced for popular classes is very close to win the market share that used to belong to a middle class publication. The report of Marplan Institute points that the percentage of the population that reads Extra is bigger in all social levels in relation to its competitors in Rio. While 41% of the population of Rio de Janeiro, in social level BC, read Extra, in AB class the newspaper is also in advantage: 33% of the population of Rio de Janeiro in this social class read it. And in class D, with one of the consumption levels that grows faster in Brazil, Extra is the leader: 616.000 readers in this class (31% of the market). The survey of Marplan Institute has also proved Extra had increased its number of readers with high school level (readers with college degree): they were 249.000 (23% of the total number of readers) in the first trimester of 2001 and in September they were 277.000 (27%). The popular publication reaches almost half of the population of Rio with college degree: 1.057.000 readers (44% of the market).
These changes of the preferences of the readers have transformed the way the newspapers are produced. Brazilian middle class newspapers have two American journals as models: The New York Times and The Washington Post. The articles of those two papers are often been translated to Portuguese and published by three of the biggest periodicals: Folha de S.Paulo, O Globo and Jornal do Brasil. The American patterns for newspaper design were also copied by Brazilian publications. In 1995, the direction of O Globo decided to buy a new visual project for the newspaper in the office of two of the most famous American graphic designers: Milton Glaser and Walter Bernard.
In the end of the sixties, Glaser worked at the Push Pin Studio in New York, a workshop of ideas where the partners created the magazine "New York", until today a publishing reference. Glaser became famous when he created the campaign I love NY, with a heart in the place of the word love. Now he divides its activities between its course of summer in the School of Visual Arts and works as design and illustrator in a new office, in a New York building in 32nd Street East. Glaser and Walter Bernard created the new graphical design of some of most important periodicals and magazines of different countries, such as "Time" and "Village Voice" (USA), "L'Express " and "Paris Match" (France), " Lire" (Italy), "La Vanguardia " (Spain) and O Globo, in Brazil.
The graphic design for O Globo was inspired by the idea of approaching the page design to the outdoors look, with one huge picture and small texts. According to him, this disposition would increase the velocity of reading. Each page would have one picture to the main report. The others reports would appear like small notes in one column. The editors would be responsible for the rigid hierarchy of the news in each page. Titles and subtitles should resume the report as well as the legend of the picture, the lead of the text. If the reader did not have time to read the news, then he would see it. The page would have one picture and few colors, letters only in black, printed over the white of the paper. In 1997, Folha de S.Paulo announced a similar visual project, designed by a Brazilian office. The newspaper would publish lots of special supplements, with huge pictures on the front pages and with a conception closer to a weekly magazine design. These middle class design projects of O Globo and in Folha de S.Paulo began to change with the success of Extra.
The popular newspaper had another American model for its design: USA Today. But with a Brazilian additive: an humoristic treatment for the news. Its front page has more than 15 reports, full of pictures and colors, mixing news and merchandising. It had nothing to do with an outdoor design, it had no hierarchy for the news at all. And it was full of charges and gags. And the war was no exception. George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden were both characters of journalist treatment that could be described as a carnavalization of news. In other words, Extra produced a theatricalization of the front paper, and the humor and irreverence of the charges and of the texts were closer to the spirit of Brazilian Carnival. Bin Laden leaves Kabul by horse just before the arrival of the American military aircrafts; The cavern man Bin Laden escapes with four wives and 15 children. The titles at the front pages of Extra have shown an image of the war that was radically opposed to the exploration of the misery of the Afghanistan people, with women and children starving on the camps for refugees as a dramatic scenery for the transformation of the Taliban mullahs in monsters of fanatic religiosity and ignorance. On the opposite side, Extra showed these characters in the small affairs of daily life with the humoristic traces of the charges.
As the economic crisis became more and more dramatic in Argentina and Brazil, the middle class newspapers began to give a larger space to charges in the front pages, to publish more pictures (mixing political news and the marketing of the TV stars or gossip of rich people and football players) and to spend more pages with the local production of news, with a more critical view of the war and of the information produced by American media. The protest of Brazilian press associations against the American censorship of the war news was remarkable. That happened in October. Also the episode (in October 18th) that opposed the reporters of the Brazilian office of The New York Times in Rio de Janeiro and Brazilian health authorities _ they argued because of the false information, published by the American newspaper, that its office in Rio was contaminated by the bacteria antrax, information attributed to a source of the sanitary agency of Brazilian government _ was another moment of confrontation between the two national media. The American newspaper said it was an attack of bioterrorism and the Brazilian authorities _ with the accomplishments of José Serra, health minister and presidential candidate to next Brazilian elections, in 2002 _ classified it as a biojoke.
Brazilian newspapers also published different points of view (and some humoristic ones) of the decision of the American government to send CIA agents to a permanent office in Rio and to investigate the South frontiers of Brazil with Paraguay and Argentina in search of Al-Qaeda terrorists. To show how these editorial views changed the daily work of the journalists of Extra and O Globo, ii is important to say that the texts written by O Globo reporters in the middle class style were translated to the popular style in order to be published by Extra. And the reporters of both also produce information to the journalist sites of the company, without having any salary compensation for the increase of the number of texts to be produced. Now, O Globo has 350 journalists and Extra, 180 (the first one lost almost 50 journalists in the last two years). And the copyright of the texts belongs to the media company Infoglobo, by contract. So there is an informal deal: if the edition changes too much the original text, it is published without the signature of the author on the other newspaper.
But even the middle class newspapers were also confronted with the limits of the transformation of their visual identity (by approaching it to the language of their popular competitors) without loosing their most faithful readers. And the worst: without loosing the few advertisers that escaped from the effects of the economical crisis. The division of the American continent into two opposite sides, as a result of the economical crisis, the rich and the poor ones, changed not only the perception of daily life but also the representation of the war for Brazilian middle classes. America was divided into two sides also as a consequence of the war that had opposed the spectacular military power of the American forces and the incredible misery of Afghan people. And the Brazilian newspapers had to confront the rhetorical alternation between an overweening pride in the affirmation of the cultural strength and the capacity of resistance of poor societies and a strategic demeaning of it for political reasons and also for economical reasons (in order to maintain the sympathy of multinational advertisers).
For such a representation of the war can foreground the heroic, and embody forth stirring images of the heroism of the subalternstrong women and children, poor heroes, resistance of the colonizedin order to encourage the readers to question the new world order politically. It can also encourage this political attitude with a humoristic confrontation of both sides that turns out to present to the richest and powerful one as ridiculous (but, again, not to the point of keep distance from the multinational companies). Or, the third option, the representation of the war can insist on a groups miseries, the oppression of women and children, of poor people, or of the colonized countries and cultures.
These portrayals of suffering may be sometimes necessaryto arouse indignation among readers, to make the situation of the oppressed people more widely known, even to convert political leaders to the newspapers causes. But the risk is that the more the editorial orientation insists on the representation of misery and powerlessness, the more its subjects come to seem like weak and passive victims, easily dominated, and the more the readers can increase the rejection to these representations, by taken them as offensive images that can be said to turning out ridiculous characters the ones they were concerned to defend. These strategies of representation of the war have been necessary for attend the political and economical needs of Brazilian newspapers, but and they are not reconcilable. And their reporters and editors know that it is impossible to resolve this particular antinomy of political correctness unless one thinks about them in a strategic way.