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As Brazil's Media Struggles, Magazine Axes Striking Staff

[All links lead to sites in Portuguese.]

Eleven journalists were sacked from alternative Brazilian magazine Caros Amigos in March 2013 after going on strike against poor working conditions, becoming the latest casualties of Brazil's struggling media industry.

Founded in April 1997 by a group of journalists, publicists, writers and intellectuals, Caros Amigos had eleven journalists and designers as well as many other collaborators. Its director, Wagner Nabuco, said that he was planning to halve the size of their office and their workers' salaries. In response, on March 8, 2013, the workers announced on Facebook that they would go on an indefinite strike against what they call “instability at work”:

Nós, integrantes da equipe de redação da revista Caros Amigos, responsáveis diretos pela publicação da edição mensal, o site Caros Amigos e as edições especiais e encartes da Editora Casa Amarela, denunciamos a crescente precarização das nossas condições de trabalho, seja pela ausência de registro na carteira profissional, o não recolhimento das contribuições FGTS [Fundo de Garantia do Tempo de Serviço] e do INSS [Instituto Nacional da Segurança Social] e, agora, o agravamento da situação pela ameaça concreta de corte da folha salarial em 50%, com a demissão de boa parte da equipe.

We, members of the editorial team of the magazine Caros Amigos, directly responsible for the publication of the monthly issue, the website, and special editions and inserts published by Casa Amarela, denounce the growing instability of our working conditions, the absence of registration of the carteira profissional [document that regulates admissions, dismissals and wages], the non-payment of contributions to the FGTS [Time of Service Guarantee Fund] and the INSS [National Institute of Social Security], and now the worsening of the situation by the very real threat of cutting the payroll by 50% and the dismissals of the majority of the team.

"The staff of Caros Amigos declares a strike! End instability at work": Image taken from the Facebook profile of those fired from the Caros Amigos magazine. Free to use.

“The staff of Caros Amigos declares a strike! End instability at work”: Image taken from the Facebook profile of those fired from the Caros Amigos magazine. Free to use.

Since March 4, 2013, when they were warned by Nabuco of his intentions to make the magazine workers’ situation even less stable, they have tried to negotiate a way to avoid the strike without success.

Immediately after the announcement of the strike, the Chapa 2 “A Union is to Fight!”- the group in opposition to the current management of the Journalists’ Union of São Paulo- reproduced the message from the striking workers and provided solidarity.

On March 11, workers were summoned to a meeting and were informed that due to “breach of trust” they were all fired, a blatant violation of the constitutional right to strike in the country. Journalist André Deak was among the first to spread the news on Facebook, posting the team's letter:

(…) lamentamos a decisão da Direção. Consideramos a precarização do trabalho e a atitude unilateral como passos para trás no fortalecimento do projeto editorial da revista, que sempre se colocou como uma publicação independente, de jornalismo crítico e de qualidade, apoiando por diversas vezes, inclusive, a luta de trabalhadores de outras áreas contra a precarização no mercado de trabalho.

(…) we regret the management's decision. We consider the instability at work and the unilateral attitude as steps backwards in strengthening the editorial project of the magazine, which has always stood as an independent publication priding itself on its critical journalism and quality, including supporting workers’ struggles in other areas against instability in the labour market on numerous occasions.

The editor of the magazine, Wagner Nabuco, tried to justify himself in an article for the newspaper Brasil de Fato, reproduced by the blog Vi o Mundo, in which he says he made ​​the decision amid a financial crisis for the magazine, without further explanation of the intended layoffs or instability:

Ressalto que nessas reuniões mostrei todos os números da editora, sua movimentação financeira e o prejuízo mensal que a revista vem acumulando pois, mesmo com os milhares de leitores, as receitas de publicidade são pequenas (e agora com mais restrições da SECOM/PR [Secretaria de Comunicação da Presidência da República]), todo o mercado de circulação – bancas e assinaturas – está em queda, os custos vem aumentando acima da inflação, e não podemos repassar para o preço de capa. Essa situação atingiu duramente os veículos alternativos e contra hegemônicos, que tiveram que fazer ajustes para continuar suas operações e produzir um jornalismo crítico e independente.

I must highlight that in these meetings I showed all the publisher's figures, its financial transactions and the monthly loss that the magazine has been accumulating. Even with thousands of readers, the advertising revenues are tiny (and now with more restrictions from the SECOM/PR [Department of Communication of the Presidency of the Republic]), all market movement- newspaper kiosks and subscriptions- is falling, the cost has increased above inflation, and we cannot reflect this in the cover price. This situation hit the anti-hegemonic and alternative vehicles hard, which have had to make adjustments to continue their operations and produce independent and critical journalism.

Journalist Gabriela Moncau, one of those fired from the magazine, vented in an interview for the union's opposition group:

É triste ver tamanha incoerência em um veículo que cumpre o papel de crítica e contra-hegemonia em um cenário estarrecedor de concentração dos meios de comunicação. Entendemos a importância que a Caros Amigos tem e, claro, por isso muitas vezes nos submetemos a condições que em outros veículos não nos submeteríamos. Mas era o nosso trabalho, não a nossa militância. Até quando patrões de instituições de esquerda utilizarão a “militância” dos que ali trabalham para fechar os olhos às condições precárias a que estes são submetidos?

It's sad to see such inconsistency in a vehicle that fulfills the role of criticism and counter-hegemony against a backdrop of staggering media concentration. We understand the importance that Caros Amigos has and of course that's why we so often submit to conditions that in other situations we'd never accept. But it was our job, not our militancy. How long are the bosses of left-wing institutions going to use the “militancy” of those who work there to ignore the poor conditions they are subjected to?

A broader crisis

For journalist Rodrigo Vianna of the blog Escrevinhador, Caros Amigos’ situation exposes “the instability of the situation and the lack of resources affecting various sites and publications”:

De maneira crescente, empresas de comunicação (inclusive na “grande imprensa”) precarizam o trabalho do jornalista, que de funcionário passa a ser um “colaborador fixo” ou “prestador de serviços” para que as empresas cortem os gastos com impostos e contribuições trabalhistas. Há anos a situação é denunciada por entidades da categoria, mas com poucas vitórias.

Increasingly, media companies (including the “mainstream media”) play down the journalist's job from that of employee to a “stable collaborator” or “service provider” so that the companies can cut spending on labour taxes and contributions. For years the situation has been denounced by entities of this class, but they are lacking in victories.

Vianna also talks about the closing down of several newspapers in Brazil or the decision to adhere exclusively to online platforms amid the crisis, and ends by criticising President Dilma Rousseff's government, whose SECOM keeps a large part of official advertising funds “in the hands of a few”:

Age, assim, na contramão das políticas adotadas por democracias ocidentais que destinam parte da verba para “fundos de democratização da mídia”; e parece mais preocupado em não criar “zonas de atrito” com meia dúzia de famílias que, donas de revistas e jornais conservadores, se esbaldam com a verba de publicidade oficial.

It acts, therefore, against the policies adopted by Western democracies that give part of the profits to “funds of media democratisation” and seems more concerned about not creating “friction” with half a dozen families that, owners of conservative magazines and newspapers, feast on the funding from government advertising.

The Agência Carta Maior, a left-wing alternative vehicle, believes that the source of the problem is in “financial asphyxiation, resulting from the federal government's decision to suppress publicity of public utility vehicles in the alternative media”.

"WE ARE ON STRIKE": Image taken from the Facebook profile of those fired from Caros Amigos. Free to use.

“WE ARE ON STRIKE”: Image taken from the Facebook profile of those fired from Caros Amigos. Free to use.

Journalist Leonardo Sakamoto agrees but goes further and also blames the disunity of journalists and the lack of action by unions in the fight against instability. He also makes a grim prediction:

Talvez o futuro seja um misto de tudo isso, emprego CLT [com carteira assinada], frilas, empreendedores individuais ou coletivos, pessoas produzindo conteúdo em redes, ONGs, enfim. Mas, hoje, o que me preocupa são os viventes e suas contas a pagar.

O que estou pedindo? Jornalistas do mundo, uni-vos? Que tamancos sejam jogados nas prensas dos jornais? Nem… isso seria muito brega. Ou melhor, kitsch. O que gostaria de lembrar é que as coisas vão mudar cada vez mais rápido. E temos duas opções: encarar isso sozinhos ou juntos, lutando contra a indiferença.

Perhaps the future will be a mix of all this, CLT employment [with full labour rights], freelances, enterprising individuals or collectives, people producing content in networks, NGOs. But today, what worries me is how they live and pay their bills.

What am I asking? Journalists of the world, unite? Throw shoes at newspaper presses? No, that would be too cheesy. Or kitsch. What I would like to think is that things will change more and more quickly. And we have two choices: face it alone or together, fighting against indifference.

Journalist and cartoonist Gilberto Maringoni reminds us on Facebook that the editor Wagner Nabuco should not be demonised “as if he were entirely responsible for the dramatic situation of the magazine”, while others like journalist Julio Delmanto, on the blog Passa Palavra, ask to boycott the magazine.

The eleven laid-off workers are Alexandre Bazzan, Caio Zinet, Cecilia Luedemann, Débora Prado, Eliane Parmezani, Gabriela Moncau, Gilberto Breyne, Otávio ​​Nagoya, Paula Salati, Ricardo Palamartchuk and Hamilton Octavio de Souza. De Souza posted a message on Facebook that shows hope and reports that spirits are still high amongst those who were fired, who believe they have done the right thing:

Ser demitido por defender condições dignas de trabalho e fazer greve, aos 64 anos de idade, só pode ser a glória.
Ser demitido por ficar ao lado de jovens trabalhadores dispostos ao sacrifício por um mundo mais justo e igualitário, não tem preço.

Being fired for defending decent working conditions and to strike, at 64 years of age, can only be a success.
Being fired for supporting young workers willing to make a sacrifice for a more just and egalitarian world is priceless.

This post was proofread in English by Georgi McCarthy.

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