Lula's press-bashing set to tarnish image

Sept. 23, 2010 at 9:02 AM
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva put his "father figure" reputation on line in an unusually harsh criticism of the media, which has been looking into alleged corruption and irregularities attributed to the ruling Workers Party aides.

Lula da Silva upbraided the media after controversy broke over reports implicating the party's presidential candidate, Dilma Rousseff, in an alleged scheme to peddle government influence for cash.

Rousseff denied any knowledge of alleged cash-for-favors deals linked to Erenice Guerra, who took over as the presidential chief of staff, a senior Cabinet position, Rousseff entered the race for the Oct. 3 election.

Lula's response was tougher and more defiant. He pointedly condemned the media for seeking out only the negative reports about his presidency, his aides and Brazil in general. He accused the media of fomenting hatred and being interested only in failures of his government.

Lula's administration has faced corruption charges, none proven, since the first term of his presidency but has repeatedly won the Brazilian public over because of his personal charisma.

Ahead of his departure from office at the end of the second term, Lula has fostered the image of himself as Brazil's father figure, almost the founder of modern Brazil. A combination of a global boom in commodity prices, huge oil discoveries and Lula's support for a carefully cultivated image of a modern reformer have elevated Lula to a position where direct attacks on him are rare but scrutiny of his aides is a regular occupation for journalists.

As Lula nears the end of his second term and the election campaign heats up, the media is feeling emboldened to resume attempts at exposure of aides who are suspected of irregularities.

Rousseff said she was unaware of any wrongdoing by Guerra, who stepped down as reports grew in intensity. "So far I have not seen any evidence, any corrupt act of former minister Erenice, which does not mean that she is above any suspicions," she said in a television interview.

Guerra took over as the chief of staff in March after Rousseff left to launch her presidential campaign. She decided to step down last week after two separate of accusations of influence-peddling.

Rousseff called for a thorough investigation, saying that "everything must be rigorously investigated, no matter who gets hurt." But she emphasized the controversy over Guerra's actions has nothing to do with her presidential election campaign.

Lula told a political rally that Rousseff's victory in the polls would also be a victory against the critical media. Besides defeating political opponents "we are going to beat some newspapers and magazines that behave as if they were a political party."

His comment received poor reception. Brazilian Solicitors College President Ophir Cavalcanti said Lula da Silva "is showing certain intolerance toward a constitutional principle which is essential for the strengthening of democracy: freedom of expression."

The Newspapers Association in a statement said it found it "regrettable and worrisome" that "toward the end of his two mandates should express such disregard toward the role of the press in democratic societies."

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