The L.A. Times ran a very nice and uncommon report by correspondent Vincent Bevins about media bias in Brazil on Sunday. The article notes that most of the major media is still controlled by the same handful of rich families who supported the military coup against the left government of João Goulart in 1964. These publications and TV outlets:
have been critical of the [Workers] party, despite a public approval rating for President Dilma Rousseff as high as 78%. Not a single major news outlet supports her, with some newspapers and magazines particularly harsh in their criticism.
“It's an extremely unique situation now in Brazil to have such a popular government and no major media outlet that supports it or presents a left-of-center viewpoint," says Laurindo Leal Filho, a media specialist at the University of Sao Paulo...
“Brazilian society was based on slavery for over 300 years, and has almost always been run by the same social strata," Leal Filho says. "Some parts of the upper class have learned to live with other parts of society that were previously excluded … but the media still reflect the values of the old-school elite, with very, very few exceptions."
Of course the same could be said – more strongly – about the media in all of the countries that now have left governments in South America: certainly Bolivia (perhaps the worst media), Ecuador, Argentina, and Venezuela. We can also include Paraguay, where the major media helped depose the social democratic President Fernando Lugo last year. All of these governments have had their battles with the media, and all (except Paraguay) have increased government media as a counter-weight, with varying degrees of success. Venezuela has created a number of state TV stations, but they only have about 5.4 percent of the TV audience, so the opposition still has a media advantage there too.
As the article notes, the TV media – although biased – is not as hostile as the print media, and since most Brazilians get their news from TV, the widespread media bias has not been fatal to the government. The article didn’t mention it, but one reason that the Brazilian TV media is not as bad as the print media is that the second largest TV station is TV Record, which is owned by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. This station is not biased against the government and it sees the majority of Brazilians, who are low-to-moderate income, as its target audience; it therefore provides not only a different editorial view but important competition to the TV media that is controlled by the “old-school elite.”
But I would bet that the print media still has a very important negative influence. The PT government, especially since 2004, has been moving towards more sensible (and less neoliberal) economic policies: on monetary, fiscal, exchange rate, and other policies. We don’t have a counter-factual, but it is likely that Brazilian conservatives, by dominating elite opinion through the print media, have helped to slow this process down considerably.