As the country battles a historic crime wave that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, the staples that once dominated morning television here — celebrity news, cooking advice, feel-good stories — have been replaced with increasingly gory footage of real violence. And Brazilians cannot get enough of it.
In January, “Primeiro Impacto,” a show that focuses exclusively on true-crime footage, became the second-most-popular morning program on network television.
The gunshots that are fired around the country at night are replayed on television screens the next morning, accompanied by an action-movie soundtrack. The camera zooms in on body bags. Suspects are circled in red.
In a nation suffering a record spike in killing, the fear is palpable — but so is the anger.
“There’s no talking to these thugs,” says the show’s host, known as Marcão do Povo, or Mark of the People. “They deserve a bullet to the back. That’s what thugs deserve.”
The surge in violence — a record 64,000 people were killed in 2017, many of them in the gang war over the drug trade — has made Brazil one of the most dangerous countries in the world and left Brazilians clamoring for the tough-on-crime approach they see on television.
Politicians are responding. Promises of harsher sentences
for criminals and protections for police officers who kill on the job helped catapult the previously obscure right-wing congressman Jair Bolsonaro into Brazil’s presidency last November.
“I’m going to stuff prisons full of criminals,” Bolsonaro said on the campaign trail last year.
Upon taking office in January, he loosened restrictions on private gun ownership — to allow ordinary citizens to defend themselves, he said. Lines at gun stores snaked out the door.
Bolsonaro also said “a police officer who does not kill is not a police officer.” In the state of Rio de Janeiro, Gov. Wilson Witzel is creating a team of snipers capable of shooting suspects six blocks away, and sending armed officers up in helicopters to shoot into the favelas below.
Videos showing police officers killing suspects rack up millions of views on YouTube.
When off-duty police officer Katia Sastre saw a man point a gun at bystanders in front of her daughter’s school in May 2018, she shot him dead.
Then she ran for office — and won. She used surveillance footage of the shooting as part of her successful campaign for Brazil’s National Congress.
Analysts see a direct correlation between the responses to crime that viewers are drawn to on television and the ones they seek on the ballot.
Dennis de Oliveira studies violence in the media at the University of Sao Paulo.
“Violence, a serious problem, starts being treated not rationally, but as a spectacle,” he said. “There develops this search for easy solutions, like giving people guns. There is this sense that there is no public security, and so, security must be placed in the hands of the people.”
He warned that sensational videos can stigmatize poor neighborhoods and reinforce racism. “It creates a generalization of fear, of seeing the other as a potential enemy,” Oliveira said.
For some television hosts, used to filling hours with lifestyle segments and fashion tips, the transition to crime scenes has been jarring.
Mariana Ferrão, the longtime host of “Well Being,” the popular health and beauty morning show, said she began to worry some months ago about the frequency with which she was being asked to include violent news clips in the program.
“I thought, it’s not that relevant,” she said. “It has nothing to do with health and wellness.
“I feel that deep down, we are chasing something, but we don’t even know why,” she added.
In February, a video went viral of a supermarket security guard using a chokehold to kill a 19-year-old man who had allegedly tried to steal his gun.
Ferrão’s show played the video on repeat that morning, as she narrated. When her producers asked her to point out the suspect’s face as it turned purple under the chokehold, she refused.
“I thought it was absurd,” she said. “At that moment, I felt like the presenter of a sensationalist show.”
She quit the program a few weeks later.