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The Press: President’s Breakfast

3 minute read

One morning last November President Getulio Vargas of Brazil sat down as usual to a dish of mamau (a Brazilian fruit that looks like cantaloupe), unfolded a newspaper with an expectant smile. It was the second anniversary of Brazil’s Estado Novo—the semi-Fascist State that President Vargas created in 1937—and he looked forward to a paean of headlines in Brazil’s press.

Slowly his smile faded. Getulio Vargas put down his spoon, opened one Rio de Janeiro paper after another, tossed each aside. In most, Year III of his Estado Novo began with no more than a few casual lines on page one. In some, it was buried deep inside. President Vargas’ breakfast and his day were ruined.

Next week, on the 50th anniversary of the Brazilian Republic, every newspaper in Brazil celebrated with bold headlines. President Vargas understood. His country’s press was still loyal to the Republic, cared not a snap for his Estado Novo.

Up on the carpet Getulio Vargas there upon haled his debonair Director of Propaganda Lourival Fontes, to find out why Brazilian Fascism was getting a bad press. Senhor Fontes’ answer was brief and to the point: Brazil’s newspapers were sick of censorship.

Authoritarian though Brazil is, its Estado Novo has no political link with Italy’s Stato Corporativo, Germany’s Third Reich. When war started, with German agents swarming over the country, trying to buy up Brazilian papers to counteract Brazil’s Allied sympathies, President Vargas clamped on the press a censorship as tight and thorough as Edouard Daladier’s control of the French press.

In charge of censorship Vargas put young Civis Muller, an officer of Brazil’s Federal District Police. Censor Muller, ambitious, fond of authority, but with no newspaper experience whatever, issued a series of exacting regulations, some of them virtually impossible to obey, put censors in every Brazilian editor’s office, large or small, in the offices of such foreign news agencies as United Press, Associated Press, Britain’s Reuter’s, France’s Havas, Germany’s Deutsches Nachrichten Bureau.

After the deafening newspaper silence on Estado Novo’s birthday, Getulio Vargas pondered for six weeks, then acted. Two days after Christmas he published a new decree (effective Jan. 1) abolishing both Civis Muller’s job and Lourival Fontes’, unifying censorship and propaganda under a single Ministry, responsible directly to the President.

To placate the press, Brazil’s new censorship rules are considerably milder than the old. Censors stationed in news offices are withdrawn. As in Italy and Germany, newsmen file and print what they please, must accept responsibility if they violate the President’s ideas of propriety. But censors are stationed in all cable offices to read outgoing dispatches—just in case.

Last week amiable Lourival Fontes and hard-boiled Civis Muller waited breathlessly to see who would be chosen Minister of Press & Propaganda by President Vargas. Lourival Fontes got the call. Civis Muller went back to his duty as a policeman. And Getulio Vargas enjoyed his mamau once more.

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