Magazine may pose last hurdle for Brazil's Rousseff
RIO DE JANEIRO
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - It has become a Saturday morning ritual of Brazil's presidential race -- party officials and journalists alike rush to the nearest newsstand, eager to see if this will be the edition of Veja magazine that brings down ruling party front-runner Dilma Rousseff.
The muckraking prowess of Brazil's most-read magazine, which has already unearthed two major corruption scandals that damaged Rousseff, is likely the biggest remaining wild card in the race now that the ruling party candidate is pulling away in polls with a little over a week to go.
Some political commentators describe the race in terms of how many covers Veja has left -- two.
The publication's relentless pursuit of Rousseff is indicative of what some say is a deeper bias in Brazilian media against the ruling Workers' Party and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil's first working-class president.
While the left-leaning Lula has the approval of a lofty 80 percent of Brazilians and is mostly lauded abroad as the former shoeshine boy who lifted millions out of poverty as president, his relations with Brazil's media have become strained.
"There is a magazine whose name I don't remember. It distills hate and lies," Lula told the crowd at a rally in September in one of many campaign attacks on the media, accusing some outlets of acting like a political parties.
Workers' Party officials acknowledge that Lula's anger with the media may be counterproductive and even have cost his former chief of staff Rousseff votes in the first round. Polls show her likely to win the runoff vote on October 31 after a recent surge by opposition candidate Jose Serra lost steam.
While Veja has an agenda, its reporting has been accurate, resulting in the resignation of Rousseff's former aide from her post as Lula's chief of staff over a kickback scheme.
The big media groups say Lula's criticisms have gone too far and cite their constitutional right to freedom of expression. Their long-standing fears that the Workers' Party wants to curtail press freedom were fueled early in the campaign when a party manifesto -- which was hastily withdrawn -- outlined proposals for more state control of the media.
"I think this tension between the media and power is normal -- just look at President Obama and Fox News," said Ricardo Pedreira, head of the National Association of Newspapers.
HISTORY OF BIAS
Still, some believe there is compelling evidence to justify Lula's irritation and that a negative media could become a problem for Rousseff as well if she succeeds him.
"It is unquestionable," said James Green, a Latin America professor at Brown University who has followed the campaign. "An event will take place and it will be spun in a way that is clearly designed to favor Serra's candidacy and diminish Dilma's candidacy."
He said the parallel with U.S. President Obama and Fox News didn't hold because in Brazil, unlike in the United States, there are no major left-leaning newspapers or television networks to balance the coverage.
Lula, who rose from poverty in Brazil's northeast, is systematically portrayed as "ignorant, illiterate, rude and lazy," said Bernardo Kucinsky, a spokesman for Lula in his first term and subsequently a journalism professor.
"Lately, journalists recognized his political skill and dropped the more insulting language but continue to portray him as a man uneducated and therefore unfit for the presidency."
Kucinsky said Rousseff's middle-class background would spare her from such personal attacks, but not from broader ideological bias. "The aim of the elite is to impede another eight years of 'this kind of government'," he said.
Lula has complained that "9 or 10 families" control the country's media industry.
Brazil's dominant media group Globo infamously showed an edited version of the final televised debate in Lula's unsuccessful 1989 presidential campaign that highlighted his worst moments.
The television station is more neutral in its coverage now, although its perceived harsh treatment of Rousseff in an interview in August earned Lula's scorn. The group's flagship newspaper O Globo has a clear leaning against Rousseff.
(Edited by Kieran Murray)
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