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A conflict of interest in the Communications Ministry?

Jair Bolsonaro’s new Communications Minister took office less than a week ago. His father-in-law is already reaping the benefits

In one of his many attempts to build some semblance of a coalition in Congress, Jair Bolsonaro expanded his cabinet to recreate the Communications Ministry, appointing Fábio Faria as the new department head. Tasked with overseeing telecoms, broadcasting, postal services, and digital inclusion around the country, Mr. Faria has hit the ground running by signing a pair of decrees favoring TV broadcasters and telecom companies eyeing up Brazil’s upcoming 5G auction.

Mr. Faria is a member of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), a center-right outfit with 36 representatives in the lower house of Congress.[restricted] Previously independent from the government — and often opposed — the decision to bring Mr. Faria into the cabinet fold was a clear gesture from President Bolsonaro to bring PSD onside, hoping to gather just enough support to block potential impeachment proceedings.

Beyond being used as a bargaining chip in Mr. Bolsonaro’s scrambling for a congressional coalition, the choice of Mr. Faria is not just notable for his party affiliation, but also for his family ties. He is married to Patrícia Abravanel, the daughter of television mogul Sílvio Santos, who owns major network SBT, whose coverage has been overwhelmingly favorable toward the president.

His family ties to Mr. Santos and SBT have raised suggestions about whether or not Fábio Faria’s presence in the cabinet may be a conflict of interest, as one of his duties will be to decide on the distribution of funding to broadcasters, including SBT. Speaking to newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, judges from the Federal Accounts Court and Supreme Court denied this allegation of conflict of interest, as Mr. Faria himself is not a partner of SBT and he is married to Mrs. Abravanel under the regime of total separation of property.

However, Mauro Menezes, former head of the Ethics Committee of the President’s Office, disagrees, saying the conflict of interest is “undoubted,” and the matrimonial regime has nothing to do with the case. “He would simply need to carry out an act to the benefit of a legal entity of which his spouse is a part.”

Communications Minister: pleasing the inlaws

Indeed, in his very first act as Communications Minister, Fábio Faria issued a decree benefitting his father-in-law’s TV network.

Decree 10,401, signed not long after Mr. Faria took office, alters the regulations of TV retransmission consent, opening up the market and making it easier for broadcasters to establish “network channels,” having their content transmitted on the same numerical channel across various states, something that was previously more complicated. 

Taking SBT as an example, the company currently broadcasts its open TV signal on 18 different channels depending on the municipality. For instance, it is found on channel 28 in São Paulo, 24 in Rio de Janeiro, and 36 in Belo Horizonte.

President Bolsonaro Communications Minister Fabio Faria and TV mogul Silvio Santos
From left to right: President Bolsonaro, Communications Minister Fabio Faria, and TV mogul Silvio Santos. Photo: Facebook

Regulations for 5G

One of the biggest responsibilities for the newly reformed Communications Ministry concerns the orchestration of the upcoming auction of 5G frequencies in Brazil. Bidding has been delayed several times, and now the Covid-19 pandemic is set to push any chance of an auction taking place back to 2021. In Mr. Faria’s second decree, he promoted changes to the Telecom Law, signed in 2019, and idealized to lay the groundwork for the 5G auction.

One of the points of the law foresaw the automatic renewal of licenses for the use of frequencies by telecom operators. Companies feared that the wording in force would only cover the automatic renewal of new licenses, but this week’s decree explicitly extends this possibility to all existing permits.

The decree also establishes conditions for the migration of landline companies from the current model of public concessions to a system of operating authorizations, which would give these firms more liberty to set prices and focus their services on specific areas.


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By Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”