Roberto Marinho

Billionaire Brazilian media tycoon

Roberto Pisani Marinho, journalist and media proprietor: born Rio de Janeiro 3 December 1904; thrice married (three sons); died Rio de Janeiro 6 August 2003.

Roberto Marinho turned a small local-newspaper business into one of the world's great media empires. His TV Globo network is not only Brazil's biggest, but has correspondents all over the world, and bears comparison with the big US networks. In the process of building up his businesses, he turned himself into an influential political figure, who liked to put his views on his own front pages.

Marinho accumulated a personal fortune estimated at two billion dollars. But his origins were modest. He was born in the lower-class district of Estácio in Rio de Janeiro, then the capital of Brazil, where his father, Irineu, helped to found a small evening paper, A Noite, in 1911. He eventually worked his way up to news editor, and, in 1925, he returned from a trip to Europe determined to found a politically independent newspaper of his own.

Irineu Marinho promptly sold his stake in A Noite, and set up a new paper, christened O Globo, after readers were invited to send in their suggestions. He gave Roberto, the oldest of his five children, who had trained as a joiner and mechanic, a job as a cub reporter. But within a few weeks he was dead, at the age of 49, and the inexperienced Roberto became the nominal head of the company.

But Roberto insisted on working his way up from the bottom, learning all aspects of the business until, in 1931, he became managing editor at the age of 26. Over the next three decades he built up the circulation of O Globo, moving it to a purpose-built headquarters in 1954. By that time he had expanded into radio (1944) and, in 1965, he founded TV Globo, with the initial help of the Time-Life group. He then created a holding company, Organizações Globo, to control a sprawling communications conglomerate of unprecedented size and scope, which also included a string of magazines and a publishing house.

He never stopped expanding, founding a highly successful tabloid daily, Extra, in Rio in 1998, when he was 94, and moving into the fiercely competitive São Paulo market two years later, with the Diário de S. Paulo. He also set up an educational foundation and sponsored a broad range of cultural initiatives, which took up more of his time after he had handed over the day-to-day running of his media interests to his three sons.

The Globo television network, known as Rede Globo, became Marinho's flagship enterprise. With 113 affiliated stations, it reaches every corner of Brazil, and made its owner one of the most powerful figures in the country, whoever was in the presidential palace. TV Globo is best known abroad for its slickly made soap operas (telenovelas), which have been sold all over the world, including to Britain and the United States. At home, the network's news coverage was the basis of its remarkable success: Marinho said that it gave Brazilians "a new way of viewing the world".

Roberto Marinho made himself into a hate figure for the left when he threw the weight of his media empire behind the military coup of 1964, which removed the popular president, João Goulart, and inaugurated a succession of right- wing authoritarian governments that lasted, with some internal changes, until 1985.

Marinho said he regarded the military intervention as the best way of saving the country's institutions from the growing radicalism of Goulart's government. His enemies claimed that Marinho turned TV Globo into the mouthpiece of the new regime, publicising its views and policies and glossing over its human-rights abuses. His admirers pointed out, on the other hand, that he spoke out against the press censorship imposed by the generals, did what he could to help people suffering political persecution, and never discriminated against any of his journalists because of their political views.

Long after the military returned to their barracks, successive civilian presidents found it advisable to stay on the right side of "The Journalist", as Marinho liked to be known, and they sometimes appointed his friends and protégés to their cabinets - though Marinho said he never asked for, or granted, political favours.

Even the current president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former trade-union leader who was a ferocious critic of Marinho during and after the military dictatorship - he blamed his defeat in the 1989 elections on TV Globo - praised him as a man who believed in Brazil and spent his life serving it. He decreed three days of official mourning after Marinho's death was announced.

Colin Harding

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