Digital Democracy

Digitalization and the Public Sphere in Brazil

Governor of Pará says punishment is not enough to fight the increase in deforestation

In an event held by FGV DAPP, Helder Barbalho defended public communication promoting the economic relevance of the forest in addition to the urgent climate issues

The webinar “Communication and sustainable development: the image of environmental policy and climate change on social media” was attended by members of the executive branch, the third sector, the academia and the press, both inside and outside Brazil, to discuss sustainability in the context of digital public communication. The event was held on June 2nd at 2pm and was part of the agenda for the Digital Democracy project, organized by the Department of Public Policy Analysis of Fundação Getulio Vargas and supported by the German Embassy in Brasília. The coordinator of the project and of FGV DAPP, Amaro Grassi, introduced the schedule and emphasized, among other aspects, the important of understanding how social medial shape the perceptions of citizens regarding climate change.

The participates spoke about the existence of a big narrative dispute, which is fed by the large amount of actors in social media platforms. This dispute influences the public debate and affects the creation of public policies. The main speaker, Helder Barbalho, governor of the state of Pará and a member of the Legal Amazon Governors Forum, defended the importance of public communication to create new meanings for defending the forest. He remembered that until very recently, in the 1970s, the call to occupy the region assumed that dominating and destroying nature was a sign of progress. The governor also spoke about the difficulties in fighting disinformation about environmental protocols and legal devices among rural producers. The stated that simply passing laws and applying punishments does not change the culture of deforestation. To that end, Barbalho defended an economic narrative, demonstrating that the forest is a source of wealth and development.

>> Watch the full debate

Alexander Bonde, secretary-general of the German Environment Foundation (DBU), approached the issue from a similar point of view, stating that, in Germany, economic policy and environmental policy walk side by side and support each other. He argued that this articulation has allowed for the development of environmental technologies, a market that is growing in the country according to him. Bonde attributed this scenario to the wide support of public opinion, which is largely mobilized on social networks: “There have always been many actors of civil society in this debate, and we also must emphasize that public opinion in Germany has this fundamental power to affect what is done in environmental policy”, he said. The DBU representative emphasized the participation of ecologic movements; from local ones, which started to appear in the country in the 1980s, to the more recent international ones, such as Fridays for Future, associated with the Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

“To talk about sustainability is to talk about the importance of public opinion”. That was how the fund raising director of Greenpeace Brazil, Vivian Fasca, began her participation in the discussion panel. She highlighted the role of internet social media for organizations acting to defend the environment – now only to file complaints or to criticize, but to continue to create more ways to discuss sustainable development. However, she recognized the great difficulty in addressing some subjects in the public debate about the environment in Brazil, considering challenges such as educational level: “The big challenge of environmental communication is finding ways to simplify and disseminate these debates among ordinary Brazilians (…) and introducing these issues into the population’s repertoire”, Fasca said.

The journalist and executive secretary of Repórter Brasil, Marcel Gomes, believes that promoting this public opinion is a more complex task than making these subjects known. He remembered recent researches that found that around 90% of Brazilians support actions to protect the environment. However, the development of public policies is a lot more tied to a numeric minority that has strong political presence, whose narratives disqualify measures to fight global warming, for example. Gomes presented a set of initiatives to face this scenario: media presence of organizations and their cooperative work, promotion of critical readers, education opportunities for content producers, and the production of new narratives using data.

Offering a different point of view, but with a frank dialogue with the other participants, the president of the Brazilian Association of Business Communication (Aberje), Paulo Nassar, suggested an anthropological interpretation of the theme: “We can think about using digital tools through new rituals of information”. Nassar, who is also a professor at the School of Communication and Arts at the University of São Paulo, defended the strategic use of communication not to fight, but to have a conversation: “to be strategic is to promote dialogue”, he stated. That idea was also present in the final remarks given by Marco Ruediger, director of FGV DAPP. He emphasized the need to understand international and national narratives about defending the Brazilian territory of the Amazon not as opposing forces, but in articulation: “It’s an international issue, but also a national one. Brazil is responsible for this area. It cannot simply accept the internationalization of the area. But it is obvious that there must be an agreement in which Brazil is understood within the universe of globalization”, concluded Ruediger.

The webinar “Communication and sustainable development: the image of environmental policy and climate change on social media” was the third event organized by the Digital Democracy project, and received the support of the Europe-Brazil Democracy Forum and the Heinrich Böll Foundation Rio de Janeiro.

The full debate is available on youtube. Watch it here:

. Webinar | Comunicação e desenvolvimento sustentável


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