Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Media's Centrist Dictatorship
Folha de S. Paulo, 9th and 13th August 1983
The dignity of abertura [“opening” of Brazilian politics] consists in neutrality.
It is therefore the opposite of dictatorship, which itself is not closed to everyone, but only to one side of the political chessboard. That is, it is open to the powers that be, and closed to those who disagree with them. It matters not if the abertura means openness toward the left and closing toward the right, or vice versa. It has nothing to do with the political tint of the dictator who gives the dictatorship its character. And for the same reason the word dictatorship is applied to both the governments that are closed to the right and those that closed to the left: "dictatorship of the right" and "dictatorship of the left" are terms that can be found at any moment on everyone's lips, can be read in every newspaper and heard on every radio and television station.
Once such well-known concepts are reduced to this elementary and obvious clarity, it is my intention to take the relationship between neutrality and abertura all the way to the end. No matter how it may be disguised, an abertura that is not neutral is nothing but a dictatorship.
The currents of thought and mass media that are favorable to the abertura would have much to gain if they kept such an elementary truth in mind.
I say this especially in reference to personalities, radio and television stations and papers that pride in calling themselves centrist. They not infrequently violate aberturist neutrality and think that they avoid being labeled dictatorialists simply by calling themselves centrist — as if to say "centrist dictatorship" were a contradiction in terms.
The most cursory analysis shows this is not exact. If a government effects a closing toward both the left and the right in order to execute its centrist program, it obviously reveals the major characteristic of a dictatorship, which is to silence the voices of disagreement.
We shouldn't think that the idea of a centrist dictatorship is a chimera, a mere figment of reason. To prove this I am going to present a typical historical example. Napoleon, in relation to the internal politics of the France of his time, was a centrist. At that time, France was split into two irreducible factions: the republicans and the monarchist partisans of the Bourbons. Once he came to power, the Corsican persecuted and reduced the leaders of both sides to silence. And with brute force he imposed his centrist regime, a violently contradictory mixture of revolutionary vulgarity and monarchic apparatus, juxtaposed by the claws of the imperial eagle with an aura of military glory. At that time, this was the practible form of centrism. Dictatorial centrism.
In an anachronic perspective, what I am affirming is in regard to the state and its three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary. But, as I have already written elsewhere, the state of today — and especially Brazil — cannot be understood outside the context of two other non-official branches, though no less influential in the guidance of the res publica than the other three. These two non-governmental branches are the Media (the fourth) and the Episcopate (in Brazil, the CNBB — the fifth branch). The country will never completely emerge from dictatorship while the aftertaste of dictatorialism persists in the fourth and fifth branches. And persist it does. Paradoxically, it was the fourth and fifth branches that did the most for the abertura. They are also the ones that are most vexed at any dictatorialism that survives in the three branches of the state.
Until the media and the CNBB, each in its own specific terms and ways, steadily adopt a noble impartiality, Brazil will have an abertura like a cloak full of rips and stains.
I'll take one example. The press agency ABIM (Agencia Boa Imprensa) asked French Foreign Minister Cheysson, on his recent trip to Brazil, some questions during a press conference at the Santos Dumont Airport:
"One of the issues of the Projet that the French Socialist Party used to rise to power says: "There can be no Socialist projet for France alone. The dilemma ‘liberty or servitude,’ `socialism or barbarianism,' goes beyond the borders of our country." This thinking is consistent with the many supportive attitudes for Sandinist Nicaragua taken by the French government since it came to power.
"Both this maxim of the Socialist projet and the French policy toward communist Nicaragua seem very strange to many sectors of Brazilian public opinion. This socialist "missionary" ideology in favor of universal class struggle seems to them to indicate an extension of the French government's action beyond the limits of its own territory.
"It would be very helpful toward a proper understanding of your trip here, as well as of the one President Mitterrand has announced he will make, if at this time you were to make a statement completely elucidating this point. This is what I ask."
Out of courtesy the question presented by the ABIM reporter, Mr. Hector T. Takahashi, was asked through a young Frenchman, Mr. Guillaume Babinet, who acted as interpreter. The reader will find nothing in the reporter's question that deviates from the good norms of journalism. The interviewer can and should ask the interviewed about any issue public opinion, or part of it, needs to know in order to form a precise idea about the thinking, program and action in the public life of the person being interviewed. His private life is, thus, normally avoided.
The question could presuppose a disagreement between the interviewer and the interviewed. To deny the legitimacy of this would amount to denying the freedom to be informed of the current of opinion that disagrees with the interviewed. This would be real press dictatorialism.
Now, in a major daily paper that prides itself on being centrist, published in one of the country's largest cities, I find a reference to the question of the TFP 103 lines long. In this reference the paper's reporter found a way to raise these criticisms:
1. The ABIM agency is "unknown." Here is pseudo-centrist esprit de corps for you! As a matter of fact, that agency has been in existence for thirty years, and sends it news and opinions to 130 Brazilian papers that regularly publish them, as the "centrist" reporter can read in the book Half A Century of Epic Anticommunism (Editora Vera Cruz, Sao Paulo, 1980, p. 187, four printings). "Unknown"? To him, yes. But it doesn't look good for him to identify himself with the world, and then say that for this reason it is unknown to everyone;
2. The "centrist" reporter could have afterwards known that ABIM is — horresco referens! — "run by the TFP." So what? It is apropos to say that this inquisitive centrist discovered the obvious, for it was even contained in the very text ABIM distributed to the press on that occasion;
3. According to the same reporter, the question asked by the representative of ABIM was a "pseudo-question." This is a new idea. Everyone knows what a question is. What exactly is a pseudo-question? A question that doesn't ask anything. If the reader will examine the above text he'll see that it is nothing but a typical question. The question was so genuine that a little further on even the reporter himself recognized that Mr. Cheysson answered it "with some apprehension."
4. The reporter continues: "The TFP was referring to `an issue of the projet which the French Socialist Party used to rise to power' (indicating that the original question did not refer to class struggle, a concept introduced by the interpreter)." There is much gratuity in this particular point, especially in the impression possibly caused by the affirmation that the translator added something of his own to Mr. Takahashi's question — making it look like falsification. But the reality is different. At a certain point in the answer, the representative of ABIM reminded Foreign Minister Cheysson through his interpreter that the question also mentioned class struggle, an essential element of socialist thought and strategy, which the Minister had dexterously avoided dealing with. The French Chancellor retorted that he knew perfectly what he was saying and that he was speaking of human rights, not class struggle. He then proceeded to talk about the Sandinist revolution in Nicaragua and left the subject of class struggle aside.
By making socialist propaganda outside France, the French government implicitly or explicitly stimulates class struggle in other countries, in spite of Mr. Cheysson going to great lengths to deny it. This was the reason of the ABIM representative's polite insistence.
Since all this is recorded, it would be useless to contest it.
Probably aware of the emptiness of his attack on the TFP, the reporter goes on to dedicate a good deal of space to an two-year old issue the TFP had already clarified: the costs of spreading the Message of the 13 TFPs, of which I have the honor to be the author.
At reaching this point in the article, I realize that I already went 30% over the space allotted to my column. I am going to have to "shrink the text." I can foresee that a certain taste of irony, present in my references to the gratuitous commentaries in the article published in the major newspaper I mentioned, will become even more apparent. I would like to clarify this.
By temperament, mind style and education I am adverse to irony. And it is not present in my intentions, although it be so in my text. The problem is that I wrote feeling pressed by the worry of being too synthetic, and irony shortens the process of argumentation.
In reality, I merely wanted the reporter of the centrist paper — presumably a young man with a lot of enthusiasm and a good dose of bile — to observe that the use of methods and styles that he employed makes it impossible for a current of opinion, which doesn't have at its disposal the immense capital necessary to maintain a major newspaper, to have the means to comfortably and decorously carry its opinions to the public and readers of the paper the lad writes for. This amounts to restricting the freedom of speech of such a current, and depriving that paper's readers of the knowledge of what is thought by such a considerable part of the national opinion as the TFP. This is press censorship, as well as centrist dictatorialism of those who work in a paper with a lot of capital against those who have smaller financial resources.
This is centrist dictatorialism. Not by the brute force of Bonaparte. But by the force of capital.