Opinion, by Peter Howard Wertheim and Dayse Abrantes
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The massive corruption scandal within state–controlled oil giant Petrobras is affecting Brazilian and foreign journalists that cover the company. I am one of them, and I have been on this beat for three decades.
Recently, I had an e-mail interview with one of the Petrobras Directors. I sent the questions, none of which were related to corruption. Rather, I sent highly technical questions, because the Director (E&P) has a PhD in petroleum engineering and has worked at Petrobras for thirty years.
After two months of exchanging e-mails, however, I received a terse message from the press department saying that the director would no longer grant me an interview. She wasted my time. I firmly believe that no one is obliged to grant an interview. But, after she had accepted the interview and exchanged a number of e-mails with me, I also believe it was disrespectful to the journalism profession for her to have dropped the interview in the end.
I have interviewed former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva about pre-salt and geopolitics. I have also interviewed Mines and Energy ministers, several Petrobras presidents, directors in exploration and production, managers, Cenpes, and the world class Petrobras R&D center that cooperates with foreign companies and institutions, geologists, engineers etc.
The publications I work for are not interested in covering corruption. They want technological information, oil and gas discoveries, and analyses. Despite this fact, it is almost impossible to interview executives at Petrobras. It appears that they are afraid of their own shadows.
Another example happened at the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) last May in Houston, Texas. Dr. Solange Guedes, Petrobras’s Exploration and Production Director, who has a PhD in petroleum engineering and a thirty year career at the company, gave a major presentation about Brazil’s pre-salt.
Afterwards, she declined to give interviews to any of the dozens of Brazilian and international journalists at her presentation. OTC takes place every year and gathers dozens of representative oil and gas companies from around the world.
Petrobras executives’ failure to grant journalists interviews on the technical aspects of the company could be more detrimental to their publicity in the long run. So long as journalists aren’t granted access to important (technical) information, the corruption scandal will continue to garner the most attention. Executives ought to stop being scared of their own shadows, so that both Petrobras and journalists can move on.
Peter Howard Wertheim is an experienced international journalist and can be contacted via email here.