Independent journalism reaches a digital milestone in Brazil
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Independent journalism reaches a digital milestone in Brazil

This past week Brazilians examined their country’s legacy of human rights and political resistance. As President Dilma Rousseff received the final report on the nation’s military dictatorship from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Brasília, another political milestone was celebrated in the southern state of Minas Gerais.

On December 9, the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) held a ceremony to inaugurate the digitized collection of the independent journal Binômio: Sombra e Água Fresca (Binomial: Shade and Fresh Water), founded in 1952 by José Maria Rabêlo and Euro Arantes, university students at the time.

The ceremony was held in the university library, where attendees included the 86-year-old Rabêlo, who donated 801 editions of the journal to the university’s collection.

Founded in the state of Belo Horizonte in the early 1950s, Binômio was in circulation for more than a decade and was famous for mocking local politicians. The journal served as an instrument of denouncement and resistance in the face of political conservatism and sought to be seen as an “alternative media outlet,” according to its founders. Using humor and sarcasm, the publication confronted government corruption and covered unconventional topics such as publicity, social movements and even the press itself.

In 1964 the operation was shut down due to the military coup and Rabêlo was exiled. It wasn’t until the 1980s that he was able to come back to Brazil.

“We wanted to make a journal that was different from the model of survival and submissiveness typical of our press. That’s why we had to make a small journal at first; because we had no resources and we called for humor,” Rabêlo said at the inauguration.

He also highlighted the importance of new media and digital journalism in the fight against censorship.

“The internet is a key factor in the democratization of information,” said Rabêlo. “It’s a predominant element in the fight against the monopoly of big journals. They are no longer the owners of information.”

During the ceremony, Terezinha Rabêlo, the journalist’s sister, received an honorary acknowledgment for keeping the collection a secret from the military and preserving it for the 16 years that her brother spent in exile.

During its circulation, Binômio sold an average of 60,000 copies in Belo Horizonte — high numbers for a city that had about 200,000 inhabitants at the time. Many important names passed through the newspaper including Ziraldo, Fernando Gabeira and Guy Almeida.

The process of digitalization took about 10 employees more than 10 months to complete; eight were in charge of sanitation and two responsible for converting the archives to a digital format.

Binômio: A brief history

Binômio: Sombra e Água Fresca was a play on the name of a program implemented by the governor of Minas Gerais at the time, Juscelino Kubitschek, called “Binômio de Energia e Transporte” (Binomial of Energy and Transport). According to Rabêlo, Binômio: Sombra e Água Fresca was the “binomial of truth,” aimed at confronting Kubitschek’s “binomial of deceit.” Early on, the publication made a name for itself with its irreverence and humor.

By 1956, however, under the rule of reactionary Governor Bias Fortes, the paper began to adopt a combative tone that angered the governor and other officials. Due to this, it became difficult for Binômio to continue getting published and the journal “had to be exiled” to the neighboring state of Rio de Janeiro, where independent publishing houses were willing to keep the paper alive.

Between 1958 and 1964, Binômio became a renowned weekly newspaper, publishing serious reports that were critical of the state, even as the right-wing government began to consolidate and the coup became imminent. The paper was finally shut down in 1964, after Binômio journalists criticized military leader Gen. João Punaro Bley in one of their reports.