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Facing criticism, Brazil's Bolsonaro restores Ministry of Communications

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro gestures before a national flag hoisting ceremony in front of Alvorada Palace, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brasilia, Brazil June 9, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has decided to recreate the defunct Ministry of Communications as he faces criticism for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The right-wing leader announced on his Facebook account late on Wednesday that he was preparing a decree reopening the ministry that had been closed by the previous government in 2016 and placed under the science and technology portfolio.

The new ministry will be headed by a political ally, Fabio Faria, of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) party and son-in-law of billionaire television presenter Silvio Santos, owner of Brazil’s third network in audience.

Bolsonaro has courted the PSD, led by former communications minister Gilberto Kassab, as part of a strategy to build sufficient support in Congress to block any of two dozen requests to impeach him.

The new ministry will take over the government’s 136 million reais (21.28 million pounds) budget for advertising that has been managed by the president’s press office.

Bolsonaro has relied heavily on social media video and Twitter postings to communicate his views to supporters. On Wednesday, speaking to reporters, he said it was no secret that his government’s communications strategy had not been effective.

He also announced that the new ministry’s will have the task of privatizing the state-run radio and television broadcasting company EBC, saying it would be more efficient in private hands.

Brazil has become an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with at least 39,680 deaths and 772,416 confirmed cases of infection as of Wednesday, the world’s worst outbreak after the United States.

Yet Bolsonaro has continued to downplay the gravity of the health crisis and pushed local governments to lift quarantine measures, sending contradictory signals to Brazilians on whether to use masks and keep social distancing.

Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Alistair Bell