Brazilian-born journalist Fabiano Golgo on Czechs, censorship and being a provocateur

In this edition of One on One, Jan Richter’s guest is the Brazilian-born journalist Fabiano Golgo. When he first came to Prague nearly 15 years ago, he came as a cultural anthropologist to study the Czech people, a subject that never ceases to amaze him. Since his arrival, however, Fabiano Golgo has earned quite a reputation on the Czech media scene.

Fabiano GolgoFabiano Golgo Fabiano Golgo has held a series of top positions at various Czech publications, including the local edition of Playboy and the street newspaper Nový prostor. On top of that, he has often steered against the media mainstream and never stopped provoking both his readers and colleagues. Most recently, his brawl with one of the country’s biggest publisher, Mafra, made him complain about a lack of freedom of press in the country. But I first asked Fabiano Golgo about how he ended in Prague.

“It’s a weird and unusual story. When I was nine-years-old, I won a contest to become a child TV host. My colleague there was called Ivo Brhlík, whose parents were Czech. At that time, I didn’t have many friends because I no longer went to school and I was taught in the studio. My only friend was this guy whose parents were rock musicians and came to Brazil in 1968 and stayed there after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

“So I grew up around a Czech person, and through him, I met another seven Czechs with whom I was friends for years. So it was natural thing. When I was 19, I went to the US to study journalism, and after that, I studied cultural anthropology and I was trying to figure where to go to do my doctorate. Everybody was going to Papua-New Guinea, and I decided to go the Czech Republic. So that’s how I ended up here.”

Do you still find Czechs an interesting subject for anthropological study?

“Rather interesting. When I was studying anthropology, we paid too much attention to very old and primitive cultures. I was fascinated by the fact that even though we think that we are so much alike, there are so many differences and so many things to find out. I am so fascinated by Czechs. I’ve been here for nearly 15 years and I really do not see myself going anywhere else.”

Most foreign journalists based in Prague usually work for foreign media outlets. But have been the editor-in-chief at various Czech publications. Was it difficult to enter the Czech media environment when you first came?

“It was actually surprisingly easy. I was not planning to enter the Czech media scene; I was a correspondent for Journal do Brasil, one of the main newspapers in Brazil at the time. But there was a crisis in Czech TV at Christmas 2000, and all the international correspondents were home for Christmas, and I was the only weird foreigner who did not go home because my family was here. I consider myself an immigrant, not one of those guys who are here for a while and then go home.

“At that time, some foreign journalists called me, and one of them was this man Eric from the New York Times, and I served as his source. So after I was at the Czech TV headquarters during the strike, I got a call from the daily Lidové noviny, from David Shorf who thought it was interesting that some Brazilian guy was a source for the New York Times and spoke Czech.

“He asked me to write articles for them about things like the TV soap operas phenomenon in the Czech Republic and so on. Then I wrote an article about the private TV station, TV Nova, and its director, which had a lot of repercussions when the director, Vladimír Železný, attacked me three times in a row in his Saturday TV show. And because of that episode, I was directly invited to become the editor-in-chief for a magazine called Redhot. The publisher like my style and said that was style he wanted for his magazine.

“From then on, I was invited from one magazine to another – from Playboy to Nový prostor, which is sold by homeless people, from there I went on to direct 11 magazines for Mladá fronta, and then I ended up directing the daily Metro.

“So it did not happen in a traditional way, it was not like I became a well-known journalist. I only made some three of four columns for Lidové noviny, and that catapulted me to other positions.”

You got recently got into a dispute with Lidové noviny’s publisher, the corporation Mafra. You wrote they are likely to close down, and they asked you to pull the story off the website. That made you say there was not enough freedom of press in the Czech Republic. What do you mean?

“It’s like this: I did not say Lidové noviny was going to finish, I actually posed the question, ‘is Lidové noviny over?’ Where is freedom of the press when this happens to someone who’s been the editor-in-chief of at least 15 magazines, who had in some five previous cases predicted what was going to happen, with the same sources at Týden and Lidové noviny, and they actually happened, where is freedom of the press?

“There is no freedom of the press when a lawyer from one corporation talks to a lawyer from another corporation, and they take my story off. I’m a known person, and everyone in the media who knows me knows that I have those friends. Many hints came afterwards showing that what I was saying was true… It’s not that there is lack of freedom of the press; it’s more like that no one cared that a foreigner who has been in a position that gives him credibility, was attacked by a corporation. I’m emotional about this because I never thought this was going to happen.

“So I’m definitely going to take it to Freedom House, to the European Journalism Centre, to Brussels and Strasbourg, anywhere because aktualne.cz, where I put the story, did not have the right to censor me.”

You have also touched upon some issues that are sensitive for the Czechs. Radio Prague talked to you about the case of the racist cat in a children’s tale, and you also said there was no wonder the word ‘robot’ comes from Czech when you were talking about Czech journalists. Are you enjoying this?

“I admit I’m a provocateur. I’m not a real journalist in that I don’t go to make reports; I’m a columnist and someone who’s directed media outlets, and I use my sources what you might call high commentary.

“I wrote an article that said between quotes that ‘Czechs stink’. You see, when Czechs talk about Gypsies and Gypsies feel offended, Czechs say that what they said was true, that they can show that it’s true. But that’s not the point, so I said that in Brasil, when someone has not washed properly and stinks, we say they took ‘bahno tcheco’, Czech shower.

“But Czechs are very touchy when about foreigners giving opinions, and I understand why: because most foreigners don’t know what they are talking about. They come here thinking Czechs are all about Kafka, Havel and I don’t know what. People don’t understand that I’ve immigrated, and in my case, I’m looking at Czechs from a point of view of someone who lives here.”

“Of course, if I thought it was so bad here, I wouldn’t live here. I thought Brazil was bad, and then found out that the US was even worse; that’s why ended up here. But I do write articles that provoke thought. One example is that I’m homosexual but I wrote a story against gay legal partnership. It was a full-page piece for Lidové noviny where I wondered if we really needed this before we are really accepted, and whether it’s going to help us be accepted. I’m didn’t say yes or no, I just wanted to do something that in general, no gay would do.”