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Brazil: Petrobras Blog Versus Mainstream Media

Categories: Latin America, Brazil, Economics & Business, Freedom of Speech, Media & Journalism
Petrobras - one of the greatest oil companies in the planet.

Petrobras – one of the biggest oil companies in the planet.

Brazil's giant, semi-public oil company Petrobras [1], which faces likely investigation [2] under many accusations by the Brazilian Congress through a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPI), has just entered the blogosphere, causing mixed reactions from bloggers, government and mass media.

According to the company itself, Petrobras Fatos e Dados blog [3] [Petrobras Facts and Data, pt] aims to provide up to date information about the company and its attitude towards CPI activities. In its first week [4] [pt], the blog highlighted the Internet repercussions and mass media's position against this initiative, stating:

Nosso blog completa uma semana, com 145 mil visitas, 31 posts e 1.700 comentários, e já conseguimos um espaço considerável de repercussão. Acreditamos nas mídias sociais como um importante canal de conversação direta entre a Petrobras e a sociedade. Infelizmente, continuamos a ver na imprensa comentários equivocados que desconhecem a própria lógica das mídias sociais.

Our blog celebrates one week, 145 thousand visits, 31 posts and 1,700 comments, and we have already achieved a considerable impact on the Internet. We believe that Social Media is an important tool for direct conversation between Petrobras and society. Unfortunately we still see mistaken comments in the mass media ignoring the logic of Social Media.

In addition to the first blog posts about the company's activities, on June 4th Petrobras also released a set of questions posed by journalists from two major Brazilian newspapers and the corresponding answers. This caused a great commotion among newspapers and journalists that in turn repudiated the blog, arguing it was a threat to press confidentiality.

Some bloggers think establishing a direct communication channel between Petrobras and society is actually a good thing. Reading information given by the company itself makes it possible for people to check whether newspaper headlines about the same subject using the same raw material as that released by Petrobras are correct or not.

Carlos Castilho presents his thoughts about this Petrobras initiative on the Observatório de Imprensa blog (Press Observatory), suggesting [5] [pt]:

A Petrobras resolveu fazer aquilo que nos Estados Unidos já é uma rotina, até mesmo por parte de órgãos do governo federal. A empresa ingressou na blogosfera ao montar um blog no qual publica a íntegra de seus comunicados e entrevistas fornecidos à imprensa. […] A irritação dos jornais vem do fato de que o blog da Petrobras permite uma comparação entre o que a empresa forneceu aos jornalistas e o que foi publicado. Com isto é possível identificar erros de contexto, omissões e equívocos de transcrição.

Petrobras has decided to do something that is very common in the United States, even for federal government agencies. The company has entered the blogosphere after setting up a blog on which it publishes its reports and interviews. […] Newspaper concerns arise from the fact that Petrobras’ blog allows a comparison between the info the company provide to journalists and what is in fact published. From this, one can identify misinterpretations, omissions and transcription misunderstandings.

On the other hand, newspapers have criticized the Petrobras blog stating its position is illegal, unethical and aggressive. One of the newspapers, O Globo, published an editorial [6] [pt] on June 8th, after Petrobras’ decision to publish media inquires, claiming that questions sent to the company are the property of newspapers and their employees and that Petrobras was wounding the Brazilian Constitution.

Blogger, professor and lawyer Tulio Viana [7] [pt] clarifies readers’ doubts about whether copyright of questions is plausible or not with regard to the constitution. Analyzing Brazilian copyright law, he explains [8] [pt]:

De onde O Globo teria então tirado a tese jurídica de que perguntas jornalísticas são propriedade de quem as faz? Será que é pura e simples desinformação do jornal ou mais uma daquelas mentiras que se pretendem tornar-se verdade ao serem repetidas centenas de vezes? Para que não reste dúvida quanto o absurdo da tese, vamos ao art.8º da mesma lei: III – os formulários em branco para serem preenchidos por qualquer tipo de informação, científica ou não, e suas instruções [não são passíveis de Direitos Autorais] ; Incrível a cara-de-pau do jornal de publicar uma informação completamente falsa em seu editorial, inventando sem o menor pudor um novo inciso para o art.7º da Lei de Direitos Autorais e revogando o art.8º, III, da mesma lei.

Where on earth did “O Globo” get this argument that journalists’ questions are the property of those who pose them? Is it a pure and simple lack of information on the part of the newspaper or just another one of those lies intended to become truth through being repeated hundreds of times? So that not the smallest doubt remains about this absurd argument, we can examine article 8 of the Copyright Law: III – Blank forms to be filled in with any kind of information, scientific or not, and their instructions [are not liable to copyright]. It's amazing how cheeky the newspaper is publishing completely false information in its editorial, with no decency at all, forging a new item for article 7 of the Copyright Law and repealing article 8, item III of the same law.
Petrobras blog is hosted in a WordPress.com site.

Petrobras blog is hosted on a WordPress.com site.

Transparency being the aim of journalism itself, bloggers have also praised the Petrobras initiative while highlighting a point made by the press in which it expressed concern that the oil company's attitude would weaken its relationship with newspapers and their readers. Liberal Libertário Libertino blog (Liberal, Libertarian, Libertine) summarizes the facts. In its point of view [9] [pt]:

A Petrobras não tem nada que confiar na imprensa. A imprensa não tem nada que confiar na Petrobras. Não devem haver acordos tácitos ou relações sigilosas entre a mídia e a Petrobras. As relações entre eles devem ser públicas e transparentes. Daí a celebração.

Petrobras does not have to trust the press. The press don't need to trust Petrobras either. There must be no form of tacit agreements or confidential relations between the media and Petrobras. The relationship between them must be public and transparent. That's why we celebrate.

Commentator Fábio Couto stresses [10] [pt] how he understands Petrobras’ initiative and the press reaction:

Não vejo problema do Petrobras se defender via blog. O problema é divulgar perguntas de apuração antes da matéria ser publicada. […] Não há nada de ilegal, mas não é ético e abre um fosso entre a empresa e a imprensa. […] Mas se a divulgação de perguntas e respostas fosse feita depois das matérias publicadas, certamente o efeito poderia ser mais bem entendido.

I don't see any problem in Petrobras defending itself [against mass media] on its blog. The problem is in publicizing research questions before the news article is published. […] There is nothing illegal in this, but, it's not ethical and creates a rift between the company and newspapers. […] But if the questions and answers are made public after the news articles’ publication, it would certainly facilitate a better understanding of the facts.

While stressing that it does not have proper market research value, Folha de São Paulo newspaper, one of the biggest in Brazil, published a poll asking its readers whether they approved or not of Petrobras’ decision to “leak” on its website newspaper questions and answers before publication. On Twitter, Idelber Avelar [11] [pt] observed that the use of the word “leak” by Folha de São Paulo was already biased, but that, nevertheless, the poll showed that its readers were not buying it. At the time of publication, the results are as follows [12] [pt]: out of 5,315 votes, 4,548, or 86% of voters, backed Petrobras, whilst 767 or 14% said Petrobras stance was wrong.

Folha de São Paulo Poll online since June 09. Screenshot, June 16th. [12]

Folha de São Paulo Poll online since June 9th. Screenshot, June 16th.

Handling the situation carefully and highlighting positive and negative issues regarding the facts, journalist and columnist of the Estado de São Paulo newspaper Pedro Dória expresses [13] [pt] some opinions:

Se o único objetivo da Petrobras fosse realmente transparência, era muito simples resolver: publica perguntas e respostas logo após os jornais levarem ao ar suas informações exclusivas. […] A questão real, a discussão principal da qual esta polêmica é só um capítulo, é a relação entre imprensa, empresas, governo e público. Estou longe das redações, então não sei como essa discussão está sendo encarada nas diretorias. Se eu tivesse que chutar, apostaria que ninguém está percebendo: a credibilidade da imprensa brasileira está lentamente sendo minada.

If Petrobras’ only aim was to be transparent, it was an easy issue to sort out: it only needs to publish questions and answers soon after the newspapers publish their scoops. […] The real point, the main discussion in which all this controversy is only a glimpse of the whole picture, is actually the relationship between the media, private companies, government and society. I am away from newsrooms so I don't know how this discussion has been faced by the boards of directors. If I was to guess, I'd say something that nobody has realized yet: Brazilian press credibility is slowly on its way down.

Commenter Bruno Stern adds [14] [pt]:

Há uma coisa muito clara nessa história. A Petrobras chegou a conclusão de que, se depender do espaço na mídia tradiocional para defender suas posições, terá muitos problemas. Se há um partido da mídia, não sei. Mas que veículos como O Globo e Folha [de São Paulo] já entram nessa história com suas posições definidas tenho certeza.

There is something very clear in this story. Petrobras has jumped to the conclusion that, if it relies only on the mainstream media to fight for its interests, the company will have many problems. Whether there is a Media Party, I don't know. But the media like O Globo and Folha [de São Paulo] have already defined this story with their own clear positions, this I am sure of.

On its blog, Petrobras also released [15] [pt] the content of a letter from the Brazilian Press Association (ABI), an excerpt of which says:

A ABI considera legítima a decisão da Petrobras de criar um blog para divulgação das informações que presta à imprensa e especialmente aos veículos impressos, uma vez que as questões relativas ao seu funcionamento e aos seus atos de gestão interessam ao conjunto da sociedade, que não pode ficar exposta ao risco de filtragem das informações típica e inseparável do processo de edição jornalística. A empresa tem o direito de se acautelar, através das informações que difunde no blog, contra as distorções em que os meios de comunicação têm incorrido, como a própria ABI registrou em matéria publicada da edição de 31 de maio de um dos jornais que agora se insurgem contra o blog da empresa.

The ABI considers it legal for Petrobras to create a blog to publicise the information given to the press, especially newspapers, since questions regarding Petrobras’ operations and management are of interest to society and should not be exposed to filtering of information – a common and invitable process in journalism. Through the information made available on the blog, the company has the right to protect itself against the distortions often created by mass media, as ABI noticed, for example, in a news article published on May 31st by one of the very same newspapers that now protest against the same blog.

Emerson Luis expresses [16][pt] hope in such practice becoming part of private and government companies, and other institutions in Brazilian society, :

Importante: não basta somente que os órgãos públicos façam isso. ONGs, empresas, OCIPS, instituições, todas tem o direito de repetir a mesma prática, de divulgar suas informações na íntegra, antes das interpretações ruins ganharem as ruas. Todos tem o direito de se antecipar ao estrago iminente. É o direito, e, antes de tudo, de informar claramente.

Important: it's not enough only for public institutions to adhere to this cause. NGO's, private companies, Civil Society Organizations, institutions, all of them have the right to reiterate this practice, to publicise their information in full before it is misinterpreted on the streets. Everyone has the right to anticipate imminent damage. It is a right, first of all, to clearly inform.

In conclusion, the Brazilian journalism scene might be changing little by little, whilst Petrobras’ stance represents something negative for some, to others it is the perfect solution for transparency and an actual democratic state and information.