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The Media Coverage Of Diretas Ja And Its Impact On The Evolution Of The Democratic Press in Brazil

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One of the most important historical events which marked profoundly the contemporary Brazilian history and politics is Diretas Ja, meaning direct elections and representing the inception of the military regime decadence. The abusive military control over the state has caused massive protests of various social and political groups, unified by a common aim: the redemocratization of Brazil starting with the direct elections of the president by the citizens. Diretas Ja campaign was a civic movement of immense breadth that challenged the continuity of the military dictatorship (1964-1985). The event was organized in a form of massive civic demonstrations pledging for instantaneous elections, serving as a catalyst to end the authoritarian regime.

The affected Brazilian citizens occupied the streets of Brazil’s main cities-capitals: Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Porto Allegre, and Brasilia, starting with the last months of 1983, and continuing in 1984. These manifestations had the main aim of compelling the approval Dante de Oliveira’s emendation on the establishment of direct elections for the president. However, the amendment got denied by the military dictatorship, leaving the majority of the protesters, comprising the population and the representants of the civil society frustrated. Therefore, many “social blankets” of the Brazilian society awoke, adhering to the enormous community of protesters, which had one primordial aim: to end the dictatorship. The event was catalyzed by the seizure of power by the military regime, who insisted on choosing the next president by the Electoral College, composed of 686 members, instead of being elected by the 55 million eligible voters. Additionally, the sharp degradation of the Brazilian economic and political situation advanced the demands for direct democratic elections. The greatest stimulant for the event was General Figueiredo himself, who favored indirect elections by which the abusive system would be empowered to pick his successor.

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At the same time, Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB) was created, launching its campaign on the 15th of June, 1984. The party produced propaganda material and mobilized the civil society for the upcoming protests in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Porto Allegre. Starting with the last months of 1983, and continuing until April 1984, Brazilian largest cities served as stages for the civic manifestations, in which circa 4. 7 million people were involved, demanding direct elections. The initial manifestations were relatively small, 20 thousand people. The very first event was held at the Charles Miller Square on the 27th of November, 1983, in Pacaembu, Sao Paulo. However, the breadth of the protests increased exponentially, reaching from 250 thousand to 1 million people by April 1984, the month being known as the “climax” of the campaign. The largest manifestation took place on January 25 in Sao Paulo, being initiated by opposition politicians, artists, and the members of the civil society, addressing a crowd of approximately 1. 5 million people. The representatives of different civil society groups adhered to the movement, including church members and bishops from National Confederation of Bishops from Brazil, members of the Order of Lawyers of Brazil, student movement National Student Union, communist parties and Worker’s Central Union. Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) and PMDB parties, conducted by Lula, Ulysses Guimaraes, Tancredo Neves, Fernando Cardoso, and Franco Montoro, who worked toward unifying social groups of different interests. The younger and progressive generation of politicians, entrepreneurs, union leaders, and students, as well as the representatives of the middle-class, was disappointed by the decline of the “economic miracle” inaugurated by the Brazilian military government, which instead of assuring a rapid flourish of the economy, lead to the exhaustive rise of foreign debt and inflation rate.

Additionally, the two major oil crisis, in 1973 and 1979, along with Brazil’s economic crisis, which was marked by a 3. 9 % decrease in the gross domestic product, a record of 211 % inflation and the acute rise in the unemployment rates, accelerated the insistence for democracy. Therefore, the unexpected effects of the “economic miracle”, generated attacks to the address of the military regime. The enormous popular movement gained momentum, pledging for the abrogation of the policy according to which the Electoral College, which is neither lawful nor representative of the Brazilian citizens would determine Brazil’s next president. The reaction of the military representatives towards the civic manifestations was obviously one of anger and repression. The campaign ended with protests in Brasilia in early April, followed by a congressional vote on a constitutional amendment for immediate direct elections for the president. Although the majority of the electorate would approve the amendment, the denial from the Government was highly expected. During this tensioned period, the president Joao Baptista Figueiredo showed a lack of interest in the government, a fact confirmed by his trips abroad and the lack of leadership on the country’s economic and social crisis. One of the reasons for the government hesitation from approving the Diretas Ja was the fear that the new civilian administration might consider the members of the military regime responsible for the past abuses of power, an event occurring in Argentina at that time. As the military generals were afraid of the movement, they have promulgated authoritarian laws. Therefore, censorship of the media was widely practiced, the content being manipulated by the government through the censorship laws imposed on the press. Figueiredo also promulgated repressive measures, for example obstructing the video registrations in Brasilia without governmental authorization. Therefore, it could be inferred that the abusive system has established a “climate of anxiety and fear” within the Brazilian population, in some cases punishments and forced incarcerations being applied to the participants.

The situation aggravated when the Fifth Institutional Act of 1968, the Al-5 was promulgated by Artur da Costa e Silva, the president of Brazil at that time. The Al-5 inaugurated the “dark phase” of repression of the dictatorship, which intensified the struggle against the authoritarian rule. Some of the main consequences of the law are the involvement of the federal governmnet in states and municipalities, under the justification of “national security”, suspending the local authorities and naming military generals to the power of states and municipalities, and the censorship of music, films, theater, and press and other kinds of mass communication which criticized the abusive power. However, by 1984 the timidity of the press inhibited, beginning to advocate the views of the Diretas Ja movement.

The national daily Folha de Sao Paulo, the first one to raise the flag in favor of the massive movement. Although the majority of the Journalists served the military repressing regime, some of them found the opportunity to spread the word and to use the “media” as a way to insist on the change. Henfil, Osmar Santos, Eliel Ramos Mauricio, and Ricardo Kotscho are some of the journalists who supported the massive movement, by assuring its coverage in the newspapers: Folha de Itapetininga and Folha de Sao Paulo. At one of the interviews, the FSP journalist, Ricardo Kotscho has witnessed that at that time there were no cell phones, no internet, and subsequently, no social media and the only way to spread the word was through mass media. He also affirmed that during Diretas Ja campaign, the “big media has sabotaged” the event by trying to camouflage it, besides FSP, which at that times. Folha de Sao Paulo induced the polarization of the disillusioned middle and lower class population, who initially were not politically aware or interested at all. After Diretas, FSP shifted to the more opinionated journalism, consolidating the local Brazilian journalism by adopting an American model.

The objective coverage of the undergoing events attracted new groups of readers from various sectors of the society, going beyond the intellectuals and the representants of the civil society. The changes that occurred in FSP are a reflection of the evolution of the press as a result of the social pressures generated by the abusive military dictatorship. After a relatively long period of oppression and dearth of political and civil rights, the authoritarian dictatorship had come to an end. The period between 1985 and 1989 was marked as a transitory period in which redemocratization of Brazil occurred. However, the Diretas Ja! the campaign is considered to be conquered. It revived later in form of different social movements being engaged again in the adoption of constitutional rights. Diretas Ja reflected the intensity of the conflict between the authoritarian military regime and the thirst of people for democracy. Individuals from various economic layers of the society and of multiple political interests were unified in order to challenge the abusive system. And Folha represented the main independent media vehicle, a catalyst of the movement, reflecting the public opinion in order to accelerate the process of redemocratization of Brazil Diretas Ja represents the initial awakening of contemporary Brazilian society after a long period of oppression and censorship.


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