Brazilian population, media deal with censorship in dystopian reality

By Edward Pimenta

Editora Globo

São Paulo, Brazil


This blog is intended to explore good practices in the world of media, marketing, and content. Nevertheless, today it doesn’t make sense for me to write something that doesn’t start by addressing the Brazilian tragedy.

The disaster in Brazil resembles a dystopia — a piece of fiction about a society in trouble that sees no light at the end of the tunnel. A year after the start of the pandemic, the country became the epicenter of the world’s disease, totaling more than 300,000 lives lost. It may reach half a million deaths before the middle of the year, according to an analysis by Miguel Nicolelis, a scientist from Duke University.

The projection is plausible because the Brazilian government’s action to face the crisis is erratic and inefficient — and shows no signs of improvement.

A cascading series of events has positioned Brazil as a country with an uncertain future.
A cascading series of events has positioned Brazil as a country with an uncertain future.

In the past 12 months, four people have held the position of head of the Ministry of Health. While vaccination is advancing globally, it is impossible to predict when there will be enough doses for the 200 million Brazilians.

The scenario increases the likelihood that new variants of the virus will emerge. If the vaccines available today cannot combat the new strains, the country could become an international pariah with closed borders worldwide.

President Bolsonaro minimised the disease’s severity, opposed social isolation measures, questioned the use of facial masks, and — instead of prioritising the acquisition of vaccines — ordered the Brazilian army to produce stocks of hydroxychloroquine, a drug that is not effective in treating COVID-19.

An investigation is underway to ascertain government responsibility for the more than 50 deaths caused by the lack of oxygen supply in hospitals in Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas. The health system is collapsing. There are not enough beds in hospitals, nor supplies for patient intubation procedures.

Governors and mayors are beginning to take more restrictive measures. For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, lockdowns have become a reality in some cities.

The impact on the economy will be colossal. The country is expected to lose US$181 billion in 2021, according to projections of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). A TV Globo report shows that hunger is an increasing problem. In São Paulo, the largest city in the country, hundreds of people flock to food donation lines — and there is not food for everyone.

The escalation in the number of deaths has generated outrage. The government’s disapproval is the highest since the beginning of the administration. Nevertheless, almost half of the population considers the government’s performance in the crisis as regular, good, or excellent.

Contrary to what his opponents say, the president’s support base is not only made up of extreme right-wing fanatics, resentful military men, militias, loggers and land grabbers, and neo-Pentecostal worshipers. In an ideologically polarised country, the government’s agenda represents a good part of the middle class’ worldview. In social networks, there is a noisy clash between progressive and conservative bubbles.


The tone of criticism is rising, but the president does not seem to deal well with his detractors.

Digital influencer Felipe Neto, a fierce government critic, wrote a social media post blaming the president for the deaths and called him a “genocida” (genocide). Last year, he offered blunt criticism in a six-minute video published on The New York Time’s Web site, in which he explained why the Brazilian president is the worst world leader in managing the health crisis.

Because of the criticism, Neto was even summoned by the police to testify for an alleged crime provided for in the National Security Law, a legal outgrowth enacted during the military dictatorship (1964-1985). Neto was not the first. Government agencies and state institutions have persecuted university professors, students, journalists, and bloggers in what appears to be a scare tactic.

As in a George Orwell novel, the state monitors its critics’ movements and creates control mechanisms that threaten the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

Big Brother

Quarantine months helped inflate the numbers of content consumption via streaming, increasing 183% in one year. The commercial breaks on open TV include Amazon Prime, Paramount, Disney +, Netflix, and GloboPlay.

On open TV, the audience phenomenon is the reality show “Big Brother Brasil,” from TV Globo. It shows the intimacy of 20 people confined to a house and asks the audience to to eliminate the participants by voting.

The 2021 edition has the biggest audience in 10 years. Since January, half of the TVs turned on in the country are tuned in the show every night. Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, a public vote reached 1.5 billion votes. In this edition, the programme’s participants are digital influencers, artists, and anonymous people whose intrigues reproduce inside the house the conflicted social networking environment in Brazil.

For the first time, half of the “BBB” casting is Black. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the script reflects the demand for greater representation of minorities in public spaces. Romance and sexual plots now give way to conflicts of identity tribes. Intellectuals and academics of all stripes wrote articles in the press to comment on the show’s repercussion.

Themes such as the environment, social responsibility, diversity, and racial, religious, and gender issues are so urgent that not even the biggest health crisis in history can curb public debate around them. Instead, it seems extraordinary that these subjects have gained the enormous showcase of a TV show made for the masses.

The lesson for the marketing world is that companies are aware of these movements. It is no coincidence that the show also brought in a record of sponsoring brands. Multi-national companies such as C&A, Amstel, McDonald’s, and P&G have contributed to an advertising revenue of more than US$100 million.

Despite all the risks involving sponsorships of this type — in which controversies can spontaneously arise in heated discussions among the participants — some brands have found creative ways to insert their institutional narratives into the programme’s script, very organically, like Coca-Cola and Avon.

In early May, the winner of the reality show will be known. Hopefully, the country’s atmosphere will be less gloomy by then, as there will be less uncertainty about the future.

About Edward Pimenta

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