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disinformation on prime time television

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – In Brazil, the election campaign is plagued by false information on social networks, but also on television, where even the presidential candidates themselves do not hesitate to reveal them.

Since the official start of the campaign a month ago, the main candidates have been interviewed almost every day in prime time on the main channels, not counting the official spots broadcast just before the television news, which brings together tens of millions of viewers.

AFP verification teams found many erroneous or misleading remarks from the two front-runners, leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and current head of state Jair Bolsonaro (far right).

“Our government had the idea to create Pix through the central bank,” Mr. Bolsonaro said last week, for example, during the variety show of the famous presenter Ratinho on the SBT channel.

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In fact, this instant online payment method, which has revolutionized banking transactions in Brazil, was proposed by the central bank in 2018 under its predecessor Michel Temer (right).

The next day, Lula said in an interview with CNN Brasil that he had been cleared of all corruption charges.

All of his convictions were overturned, but most of them because of formal errors without actually proving his innocence.

“Mass Media”

“The campaign is above all a confrontation of speeches on the main issues of the election. And to emphasize these speeches, the candidates do not hesitate to make statements that mislead or even literally false information,” Amaro Grassi, coordinator of the public policy analysis department of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, explains to AFP.

The fact that political figures lie on television is not new in itself, but this overexposure in the final part of the campaign allows disinformation to take on a new dimension and reach a wider audience.

“Television remains a mass medium, a means to reach the general population and not just to preach to the converted”, as is often the case with social networks with their algorithms, believes Helena Martins, professor of communication at the Federal University of Ceara (UFC).

Not to mention that a large part of the population sees television as “the place of truth,” he insists, citing the popular expression, “if it’s on TV, it’s because it’s true.”

Few undecided

While attacks are coming from all sides among the main candidates, 85% of Brazilians believe that disinformation can directly affect the October 2 election, according to an Ipec poll released two weeks ago.

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However, Amaro Grassi believes that false information spread during this final stretch of the campaign could have less of an impact as the number of undecideds is historically low.

A survey by benchmark institute Datafolha showed last week that 78% of Brazilians were “completely decided” about their vote in the presidential election.

Among Lulu and Bolsonaro voters, 86% of those polled ensure that their choice is final.

“Voting intentions are already very crystallized. It is unlikely that speeches, communication strategies will have a real impact at this stage,” summed up Mr. Grassi.

According to him, however, the elections are also “a battle between two candidates who arouse strong rejection”.

That is why President Bolsonaro has fueled rumors that his left-wing opponent will be against farmers, against evangelical churches whose churches he would close, and against abortion to bolster anti-Lulu sentiment.

For his part, the former trade unionist has sometimes inflated the balance sheet of his two terms (2003-2010) to compare favorably with Bolsonaro’s, especially when it comes to the economic situation.

During a televised debate, for example, he claimed that the education budget had multiplied five times during his presence, but in reality it had tripled.

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