Born to disseminate data on Covid, the press media consortium comes to an end

After 965 uninterrupted days of work, the media consortium concludes its mission to provide transparency on the impact of the coronavirus and vaccination. The consortium was created in June 2020 when the government of Jair Bolsonaro (PL) sought to omit population data and delay disease bulletins.

The end of the consortium does not mean that the Covid-19 pandemic is over. Disclosure of cases and deaths will continue to be done by each media outlet. However, the daily verification of the data together by the vehicles that participated in the project is no longer necessary —g1, O Globo, Extra, Estadão, Sheet and UOL.

“The consortium has played the role of the professional press in keeping the public informed on a vital issue when the federal government has neglected this task,” said Sérgio Dávila, editorial director of the magazine Sheet.

In recent months, data from state and federal governments has proven reliable. And they point to a situation that epidemiologists consider under control, even if it requires attention to increased levels of vaccination and other preventive measures.

The press remain attentive to changes in tariffs and remain committed to informing the population about the disease.

Over more than two-and-a-half years, more than 100 journalists from consortium vehicles worked collaboratively every day to collect the numbers of people infected and killed by Covid, as well as the number vaccinated, from state health departments. The data, always consolidated at 8 pm, was disseminated daily by the participating media and fed thousands of journalistic contents in text and video.

“The consortium was an operation that involved more than one hundred journalists in these two and a half years. It was only possible thanks to the professionalism of the press media. Professional journalism requires a sense of urgency, the ability to gather relevant information with precision and agility and show all this in an objective and clear way,” says Renato Franzini, director of g1. “I would like to thank all these journalists. And also all the employees who have continued to collect and disseminate epidemiological data, fulfilling their functional duty.”

The consortium was born as a response from the press to the delay in the publication of data: the Ministry of Health did it every day at 5 pm (under the direction of the then minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta) or at 7 pm (under the management direction of Nelson Teich). On June 3, 2020, when a record at the time of 1,349 deaths was recorded in 24 hours, the then minister Eduardo Pazuello only released the data at 21:45. The following day, with a new record of 1,471 dead, the bulletin was only published at 10pm on the ministry website.

“When the federal government’s transparency vacuum seemed hopeless, with no numbers being disclosed and no standards at all in the disclosure of Covid deaths and cases, with a country without a plan to fight the disease and no available vaccines, we contributed reliable data so that Brazil does not remain blind. It is the state’s mission to respect the transparency of its policies. The end of the consortium’s acquisition of Covid data is a vote of confidence, but with the message that we will be careful to possible inconsistencies,” said Alexandre Gimenez, director general of News, Economy and TAB at UOL.

In addition to the delay, there have been other initiatives against transparency. The official bulletin has begun to highlight the cases and deaths recorded during the day, but without the accumulated total of dead and infected. Cases registered as “cured,” even though no cure for the disease was known at the time, also began to receive more attention.

Bolsonaro went so far as to say that not presenting the number of deaths from Covid was “good for Brazil” and confirmed that there was an intention to delay the data, when he said that “an article on the Journal Nacional”. “It doesn’t matter who it comes from [a ordem para modificar o horário], it is right to leave at 10pm, the data is fully consolidated. On the contrary, you don’t have to rush to join Globo,” he said at the time.

The government’s position has been heavily criticized by international specialists and vehicles. The correct dissemination of numbers is important for the planning of public policies and the health security of the population.

The standard of best practice has been the dissemination of newsletters with examined, confirmed and discarded cases, and data such as the onset of symptoms and the closure of each case (for both hospital discharge and death).

“When the Brazilian state failed in the most basic duty of information in the face of an epidemic, the press, in an unprecedented action, joined forces to fill the vacuum left by the official ineptitude. competitive, which guarantees a plurality We hope that moments like the one that prompted the formation of the consortium will never happen again in Brazil,” said Eurípedes Alcântara, director of journalism at Estadão.

When the media consortium was formed and began publishing data obtained directly from the 26 states and the Federal District, the federal government backed down and resumed publishing pandemic numbers on a regular basis and in a timely manner. journalistic work. Despite this, the consortium continued to work, facing the risk of a new data blackout.

With the daily monitoring of the crisis, milestones of the pandemic have been recorded, such as when the death toll reached 200,000 in the country on January 7, 2021, during the drama caused by the lack of oxygen in Manaus. Just over a hundred days later, in April 2021, the threshold of 400,000 dead was reached. The three main waves of deaths could be detected, in mid-2020 and early 2021 and 2022. Currently, the moving average of deaths per day is around 70. Comparable to what happened two years ago, when there were more than 3,000 dead a day.

In addition to the cases and deaths, the consortium began making public vaccination coverage with one or two doses of the population on January 21, 2021. And, as of September 2021, booster shots have been included. More recently, vaccination coverage has begun to be monitored for children aged 3 to 11, whose initiation of immunization has been delayed in the country.

To promote transparency in a period of high public health risk, the consortium received awards from bodies such as the ANJ (National Association of Newspapers) Award for Press Freedom and Media of the Year, from Aberje (Brazilian Association of Communication of enterprise).

“The constitution of the Consortium was a historic milestone for the Brazilian press, at a time when there was a lack of public power. Together we have understood the critical moment and left aside the competition to offer the country a reliable service for researchers, doctors and authorities to set priorities and it could save lives,” said Alan Gripp, managing editor of the O Globo newspaper.

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