Eleven years ago, I co-founded Brazil’s first investigative journalism agency, Agência Pública, at a time that the disruption of industrial journalism was just beginning. Since then, thousands of journalists have been fired from legacy newspapers in Brazil. As a nonprofit whose mission is to support independent journalism, we felt responsible for helping others create their own media outlets. A decade later, Brazil is seeing a boom of news startups, from community-based reporting to regional digitals news, to national news websites with audiences comparable to the centuries-old legacy brands.
A couple of years ago, many of the founders decided it was time to join forces to create an association. Some of us had tried to join the traditional trade associations, such as the National Association of Newspapers, but were rebuffed; others felt that our needs and worries were very different from those of the traditional brands.
Brazil has always had a concentrated media market, with four media groups accounting for 70% of the audience in a country with continental dimensions and over 210 million people. We were newcomers leading promising business models, and were excited to revamp the journalism industry, allowing for more diversity and offering a perspective to young reporters graduating from journalism schools. That’s why we founded the Association of Digital Journalism (Ajor) a year ago.
There was just one problem: we would need to do politics.
And, quite frankly, we are not very good at that.
The payment for news content was a hushed addition to a draft legislation whose stated aim is to mitigate the effects of disinformation. Dubbed the “Fake News Bill,” it would force tech giants to have an office in Brazil and to be more transparent and accountable about their users in the country as well as about actions taken to tackle mis- and disinformation. On top of that, massive, automated manipulation campaigns would be criminalized. But while there seems to be a consensus that social media platforms must be regulated, Brazilian journalists like me are on the fence about the payment for news.
A year ago I was elected the president of Ajor. So when the debate about regulating social media came about in March this year when the final draft was presented, I was compelled to study the law and draw my own conclusions.
But during the process of learning about the bill, we have been accused of being anti-journalism and of defending the interests of Google and Facebook/Meta. Each company has, through its journalism projects, provided grants to Ajor (as they have for projects related to legacy media in Brazil). Of course, this would never stop me or other members of Ajor from openly criticizing Big Tech.
I am positive that social media must be regulated, the sooner the better. I am also in favor of taxing social media platforms so they give back some of the profits they reap from society. As with everything, the devil is in the details.