Newspaper circulation and readership in Brazil have traditionally been low if compared to the rates in most developed countries: 61 daily newspapers per 1,000 people in 2002. However, the fifth most populous country in the world—170 million people in 2000—boasts a very lively and energetic press, which in the 1990s played an important part in exposing problems such as political corruption, homelessness, and environmental degradation, and thus spurring significant changes in the structure of Brazilian political and economic institutions.
Relatively low literacy rates (85 percent) and high production and distribution costs have been consistently blamed for small newspaper circulation in Brazil. An estimated 465 newspapers circulated daily in Brazil, more than in Germany, Mexico or Russia. Although there are no national newspapers in the country, the largest circulation dailies attract audiences that extend beyond their regional geographic markets. Brazil has no large newspaper chains, and most publications are still family-owned. Several of those family-owned companies, however, are in fact regional or local media conglomerates that also own television and radio stations within their metropolitan or state markets. A handful of those corporations also own and operate publishing houses, news agencies, as well as cable and satellite television companies.
When it comes to press freedom, Brazil has had a somewhat spotty historical record. Until 1808, Portuguese colonizers prohibited printing presses in the country. As a result, a strong newspaper tradition was not established in Brazil until the mid to late 1800s. From 1889 on, with the creation of the Brazilian Republic, the country's political system has alternated between authoritarian and democratic phases. Consequently, freedom of the press has been restricted and in some cases completely abolished for significant periods in Brazilian history.
Brazil occupies half of South America's landmass. The country is the fifth largest in the world, after Russia, Canada, China, and the United States, although its geographic area is larger than the 48 continental U.S. states. Brazil shares a border with every South American country, except for Ecuador and Chile. The Amazon rainforest, which occupies at least half of Brazil's landmass, is probably the country's most prominent and well-known geographic feature. The country also has wetlands, savannas, subtropical forests, mountains, and semi-arid areas. Those geographic characteristics were very important in the establishment of Brazil as a country and in the development of the Brazilian media system. Until the mid-1970s, most of the country's population was concentrated in the southern and southeastern areas of Brazil, as well as along the northeastern Atlantic coast. Consequently, newspaper circulation (as well as magazine readership and even television watching) until the 1970s used to be concentrated in these populated urban areas.
The 26 Brazilian states, some of which are larger and more populous than other Latin American countries, are commonly grouped in five different regions: North, Northeast, Center-West, Southeast and South. In terms of population and socioeconomic indicators, the North and Northeast are usually regarded as poorer and less populated than the other three regions. The Southeast alone, with just 11 percent of the country's area, had 42 percent of the Brazilian population, 62 percent of the GDP and over 70 percent of the country's industry in 1996. The
three largest Brazilian cities, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte, are located in this region.
The four top circulation newspapers in the country— Folha de São Paulo (560,000), O Globo (350,000), O Dia (250,000), and O Estado de São Paulo (242,000)— are also located in the Southeast region, Folha and Estado in São Paulo and Globo and Dia in Rio.
Although it displays less impressive numbers, in terms of quality of life, socioeconomic indicators, and distribution of wealth, the South might be considered the most prosperous Brazilian region. With a heavily mechanized agriculture and most of the country's cattle, the Center-West, which has recently achieved economic importance, occupies one-fourth of the country's area, but has less than one-twelfth of its population.
Brazil is an essentially urban country. According to the official census data, the percentage of the population living in urban areas sprung from 36 percent in 1940 to 76 in 1991. That number rose again to 81 percent in 2002. The census also indicated that more than 85 million Brazilians lived in cities of 100,000 or more in the early 1990s.
In terms of ethnic and cultural characteristics, the Northern region is mostly populated by the descendants of native Indian groups. Known as caboclos , men and women of this sparsely populated Brazilian region (where most of the Amazon forest is located) live along the banks of the many rivers and creeks that constitute the Amazon river basin. Most of those caboclos rely on subsistence crops, fishing, and hunting as their main economic activity. Many of them still preserve much of the physical and cultural traits that characterized their native Brazilian ancestors. In the Northern region, the influence of Portuguese and other European immigrant groups can best be felt in larger cities, such as Belém and Manaus. Newspaper readership in the northern region is also concentrated in those two cities, as well as in a few other smaller urban areas.
In the Northeast, the sertanejo is the equivalent of the Northern caboclo . Sertanejo is the term usually employed to describe peasants and small farmers that populate the arid and poor inland areas of that region. The Northeastern coast received the largest numbers of African slaves brought from across the Atlantic. Today's sertanejos are the result of centuries of racial integration between African and local native groups. The African influence is still heavily felt in the region's largest cities, especially Salvador and Recife. Most cities and state capitals located in this area have their own daily newspapers, but readership tends to be low.
In terms of ethnic diversity, the Southeast and Center-West regions are the best examples of the "melting pot" of cultures and traditions described in earlier paragraphs. There is no one dominant ethnic group in those regions of the country, where the African, European and native Brazilian presences can be equally measured. However, heavy European and Asian immigrations have radically altered the ethnic make-up of the five Brazilian regions in the twentieth century. The most important "recent" ethnic groups are Germans, Japanese, and Italians. Their immigration to Brazil started in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and continued throughout the first half of the century. The Japanese population, concentrated in the states of São Paulo (Southeast), Paraná (South), and Pará (North), has grown to 1.2 million over the decades. German immigrants concentrated in the three Southern states, where many rural areas are still referred to as "little Germany," while a very large number of Italian immigrants concentrated in São Paulo and also in the South.
Brazil's history as a nation goes back to the year 1500, when Portuguese navegadores (sailors) set foot on what is now the state of Bahia. Before the Portuguese, several different native populations occupied Brazil. Despite wildly divergent estimates, most historians believe the country was heavily populated along its lush 4,600 mile-long shoreline, and only sparsely occupied inland.
Years before they discovered Brazil, the Portuguese had already claimed the eastern half of South America, when they signed the Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain in 1494. The colonization of Brazil, which started 30 years after discovery, was justified by economic, political and religious reasons. Portugal needed not only the abundant raw materials (wood, sugar cane, spices) free for the taking in the new colony, but it also took upon itself the duty of converting to Christianity the native population it encountered in the new land.
Portuguese colonization was very important in determining the future of the Brazilian press system. Literacy and education were highly discouraged by the Portuguese rulers. Universities, book publishing and newspaper printing were not seen in Brazil until 1808, when the Portuguese royal family had to settle in Rio de Janeiro to escape the Napoleonic Wars in Europe.
Portugal granted Brazil independence in 1822, but unlike what happened in former American colonies such as the United States or Mexico, Brazilian ruling classes opted for a monarchic regime that lasted until 1889. During the so-called First and Second Empires (1822-1889), limited access to education, low literacy rates and widespread poverty prevented newspapers from reaching a mass audience. Newspapers were often associated with political parties and specific interest groups, such as the freemasons. Despite their limited reach, and because of their influential role in forming public opinion among the educated elite, newspapers and journalists were often in the center of the political action.
The situation was not very different throughout the Velha República (Old Republic), which lasted from 1889 to 1930. Newspapers and prominent editorial writers influenced decisions made by the Brazilian ruling classes— landowners, merchants, and political and military figures—but never attained the kind of mass circulation reached by the Penny Press in the United States at the same time period.
Political disenfranchisement of the masses and general dissatisfaction with economic policies led to the collapse of the Old Republic and the establishment of the Vargas Era (named after President Getulio Vargas) in 1930. Vargas ruled Brazil from 1930 to 1945, and then again from 1951 to 1954, alternating as dictator (1930-1934), congressionally elected president (1934-1937), dictator again (1937-1945), and finally popularly elected president (1951-1954). Throughout this time, Vargas had a very turbulent relationship with the press. The government created an official propaganda department; press freedom was suppressed for extended periods of time; journalists and writers were persecuted and jailed; newspapers were routinely censored.
It was not until the end of World War II in 1945 that Brazil started to enjoy a period of democracy and economic growth. From 1945 to 1964, civil liberties and press freedom were finally restored, as a new Constitution was drafted and approved by Congress. The country was industrialized, a new capital (Brasilia) was built, and a strong middle class emerged. Universities were created or expanded in every Brazilian state, and literacy and newspaper readership increased.
The democratic period ended in April 1964 with the military coup d'état that removed President Goulart. The military regime that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 was particularly fierce in its limitation of press freedom. From 1968 to the mid-1970s, for example, a presidential executive order (called AI-5, short for Ato Institucional n. 5) severely restricted civil liberties in the country, and established de facto media censorship.
During the two decades of military rule, several daily newspapers refused to abide by the government's limitations, but these publications had to pay a high cost for serving as the country's moral and social conscience. In the late-1960s and early-1970s, it was not uncommon for newspapers to be censored on a daily basis. Individual journalists also suffered government persecution, and, in the case of at least one prominent journalist, paid with their own lives.
Brazilian mass media, especially newspapers and magazines, were instrumental in pressing for and overseeing the transition from military to democratic rule in the late-1970s, a process known as abertura politica. The restoration of democracy, civil liberties and the rule of law also immensely affected the press in the 1980s. In the 1990s, newspapers and journalists played a very important role in denouncing social and economic problems such as poverty, homelessness and political corruption.
In the early 1990s, newspapers and newsmagazines were the first institutions in the country to investigate allegations of corruption and abuse of power against then President Fernando Collor. The subsequent media frenzy, which has been dubbed by some as the "Brazilian Watergate," eventually led to the impeachment of Collor by Congress in 1992.
Throughout the 1990s and into the twenty-first century, the Brazilian press has continued to take very seriously its role as government watchdog. According to an international media survey conducted in 1997, newspaper circulation and readership were up in Brazil, and, more importantly, newspapers ranked number one in terms of public credibility, ahead of government, congress and other institutions.
History of the Press
As opposed to what happened in the Spanish and English colonies in the Americas, where printing presses were used since the 16th and 17th centuries, Brazil did not know printing until the early nineteenth century. According to historians, some basic differences in the Portuguese, Spanish and English colonization schemes account for that delay. While the Spanish colonizers had to fight to replace advanced indigenous civilizations (the Incas and the Aztecs) with their own culture, counting on colonial universities and printing presses to better prepare their local elite, the Portuguese found in Brazil indigenous groups only loosely organized and sparsely located along the country's Atlantic coast, which did not pose a threat to their colonizing efforts. Moreover, the Portuguese royalty saw books, even in the metropolis, with extreme distrust. Until the late 1700s, any material published in Portugal had to be examined by three different kinds of censors-the local Church authorities, the Inquisitors sent in by the Holy See, and the censors working for the King. As a result, printing was a very restricted activity in Portugal, and most books were religious in nature.
Throughout colonial times, books were illegally brought to Brazil by military and intellectual figures that visited or studied in Europe. Some of those illegal books were actually used as incriminating evidence against clandestine groups that fought for Brazil's independence from Portugal. Among the forbidden publications were the French and American Constitutions.
The first printing press that entered Brazil legally came with the Portuguese royal family, in 1808. One of the first official acts of the recently transplanted Portuguese rulers was to establish the Royal Press in Rio de Janeiro. From the offices of the Royal Press was printed the first Brazilian newspaper, the Gazeta do Rio de Janeiro, on September 10th, 1808. The Gazeta was first a weekly, and then a daily newspaper. The newspaper served merely as the official mouthpiece for the royal family, publishing news from Europe and official government acts.
One of the first influential Brazilian newspapers, the Correio Brasiliense , was published not in Rio, but in London. Its founder, Hipólito da Costa, justified his choice of printing his paper abroad by reminding local critics of the fierce Portuguese censorship, and of the risks that would threaten editors who dared to criticize the King. Although the Correio 's first issue was published on June 1st, 1808, three months before the Gazeta first appeared, the latter is still considered by most historians the first Brazilian newspaper, since the former was published abroad.
Neither the Gazeta nor the Correio were informative, news-filled periodicals. While the Gazeta was an official newspaper, the Correio was a partisan one, very much interested in educating Brazilian readers about themes such as abolitionism and political emancipation. Although it was published in London, the Correio was a very influential newspaper, read by the political, intellectual and commercial elite both in Brazil and Portugal.
Other newspapers that started in Brazil at the time, such as the Idade de Ouro do Brasil , which was published in Salvador, Bahia, and first appeared in May 1811, presented themselves as informative and impartial, but in reality were very much attuned with the national and local ruling classes. Most of these "official" periodicals lasted only until 1822, when Brazil became independent from Portugal.
The Brazilian independence is explained by most historians as a long economic and political process in which the Brazilian commercial upper classes saw the Portuguese royalty as an obstacle to their goal of exporting and trading freely with any country they wanted, besides Portugal. The Portuguese King and ruling classes wanted Brazil to trade exclusively with the metropolis, and this economic dispute over trade monopoly eventually culminated with the rupture between the two countries.
Historians believe that an emerging rebel or insurgent Brazilian press played an important part in convincing and uniting the local economic and political elite around the independence ideals. Newspapers promoting the independence and rupture with Portugal flourished in Brazil in 1821 and 1822. Even before 1822, local newspapers appeared in cities such as Salvador and Belém, sponsoring radical and even revolutionary ideas.
After the independence, printing presses and newspapers multiplied in several Brazilian states, from Pará, in the north, to Rio Grande do Sul, in the south. Reading, writing and printing books and newspapers were seen not only as desirable but as necessary and even patriotic activities.
During the so-called First and Second Empires (1822-1889), the Brazilian press experienced an unprecedented boom. It was during this phase that the tradition of a strong partisan press was established in Brazil. Newspapers multiplied in every major Brazilian city. In 1827, an imperial decree abolished censorship of the press. The tradition of a lively and engaged press, patronized by political groups as well as the general population, was thus born. In the state of Minas Gerais alone, about a dozen daily newspapers appeared between 1823 and 1833.
Brazilian newspapers of the period were both informative and partisan. It was not uncommon to find newspapers articles openly and strongly criticizing the imperial government, as well as local authorities and rival political groups. This period of political emancipation and economic development in Brazil cemented the public's trust in the press, as well as the habit of reading several daily newspapers. It was not uncommon for the general population in cities such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Ouro Preto to subscribe to competing dailies.
During that time, besides Portuguese-language newspapers, French and English dailies, such as the Courrier du Brésil and The Rio Herald , also circulated in Rio de Janeiro. Those newspapers circulated mainly among the English and French nationals with commercial and financial interests in Brazil, but they also influenced local politics. French immigrants played an especially relevant role in developing not only newspapers, but also printing and typography in general in Rio de Janeiro.
In the 1830s and 1840s, as the country went through a phase of political upheaval as separatist and republican movements spread throughout the provinces, to the well-established daily newspapers were added the pasquins , openly partisan newspapers and pamphlets, many of them without regular periodicity. Those pasquins were extremely popular and influential, appearing (and disappearing) during times of intense political disputes. Historians attribute the emergence and popularity of the pasquins to the increasing literacy rates and the need many Brazilians felt to be better informed during a period of intense political battles.
From the 1850s on, daily newspapers and pasquins played an important role in two crucial national issues in Brazil: the end of African slavery and the end of the monarchy. Throughout the 1850s, abolitionist and republican newspapers multiplied in Brazil, not only in cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Ouro Preto, but also in the less-developed provinces, such as Pernambuco and Bahia. It was at this time that the political cartoons and political satires, very influential journalistic features of the Brazilian press, also appeared.
Besides their heavy interest in local and national politics, the Brazilian newspapers of the time also gave a space to the arts, especially literature. In a country where book publishing is still an extremely expensive activity, newspapers specialized in publishing short stories, essays and even serialized novels written by some of the most important Brazilian writers of the time. Following a tradition prevalent in countries such as England and France, where the serialized novels of Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo first appeared on the pages on local newspapers, Brazilian dailies enlisted intellectuals such as José de Alencar and Machado de Assis, two of the most important writers of the nineteenth century, to publish new stories and novels on their pages. Actually, most writers of any renown at the time either started at or wrote exclusively for newspapers, as daily reporters and editors.
It was also during the 1850s and 1860s and some of the most important daily newspapers were first published. Diário do Rio de Janeiro , Jornal do Comércio and Correio Mercantil , all of them influential daily newspapers in Brazil, appeared in the 1860s. The daily O Globo was also revitalized, under new ownership, at that time.
The end of slavery, in 1888, and the end of the monarchy, in 1889, started a new phase for Brazilian newspapers. Readers and subscribers favored newspapers that sponsored republican ideals. In 1891, the influential Jornal do Brasil was first published. Many well-known journalists were called to be part of the first republican government.
At the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, the Brazilian press made an effort to modernize its production. Larger newspapers, such as Jornal do Brasil , already had photography departments, and most dailies published cartoons and drawings. The period also signals a shift in management and ownership models, and most newspapers grow from small, individually-owned enterprises to larger, family-owned corporations. At that time, most large dailies owned and operated their own industrial printing complexes.
The beginning of the twentieth century also saw one of the first efforts to consolidate and professionalize the press-many small newspapers folded or were absorbed by larger dailies. Most cities still maintained the tradition of competing daily newspapers, which prevails to this day in Brazil, but most smaller papers and pasquins had to give way to market pressures.
The tradition of a partisan press and the heavy involvement of newspapers and journalists in the political life persisted throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The trend towards consolidation and modernization also persisted. As Brazil moved from an agricultural, rural society to an industrial, urban one, newspapers tried to follow the lead. As urban newspapers modernized their production departments, old printing presses were being sold to smaller, rural newspapers.
By the end of World War II, every state capital and major Brazilian city had at least one daily newspaper. It was not uncommon for cities with 100,000 people or more to have two or three rival dailies. Newspapers were often still affiliated with political groups or local powerful families. As competition increased, the need for professionalization of the news business and modernization of printing also grew.
In the 1950s, most Brazilian newspapers were already following the news model introduced by their North-American counterparts, with the use of the lead and the inverted pyramid; as well as independently-verified and gathered information; the use of an "objective" narrative style; and the reliance on independent news sources.
Paradoxically, the 1964 military coup, discussed in more detail on a separate section, also contributed to turn Brazilian newspapers into more modern and politically independent enterprises. After political parties were extinct and the multi-party system substituted by a bipartisan, quasi-official political system, newspapers focused on the "straightforward" news of the day and on more efficient business practices. It was also in the 1970s that most journalism and mass communication courses started, and a new law demanded an accredited university degree for the credentialing of new journalists by the Labor Department. By the 1970s, most, if not all Brazilian newspapers were independent from political organizations, and used off-set printing techniques.
By the early 1980s, some newspapers were already introducing computers in the newsrooms and production departments, and many were experimenting with color printing. Market pressures and successive economic crises led many Brazilian newspapers to fold in the 1980s and 1990s. Some markets have consolidated into one major daily newspaper, but in the beginning of the twenty-first century, most Brazilian cities still have two or three competing dailies.
A city such as São Paulo, for example, has three major dailies, Folha de São Paulo (circ. 560,000), O Estado de São Paulo (circ. 242,000), and Gazeta Mercantil , and still has enough space for popular newspapers, tabloids, and niche-filling publications. The same is true for Rio de Janeiro, with O Globo (circ. 350,000), O Dia (circ. 250,000), and Jornal do Brasil being the most important and influential regional newspapers, and still having smaller tabloids and specialized dailies.
Besides full-color printing and digital and satellite production, most Brazilian newspapers have simultaneous Internet versions. In many cases, those electronic versions are updated throughout the day, and have as many or more readers than the traditional paper versions.