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Roberto Marinho, 98; Wealthy Head of Brazilian Media Conglomerate

August 08, 2003|From Staff and Wire Reports

RIO DE JANEIRO — Roberto Marinho, who turned his father's newspaper into a media empire and became one of Brazil's wealthiest and most powerful men, died Wednesday. He was 98.

Marinho died in Rio's Samaritano Hospital, where he had been taken earlier in the day, according to his Globo TV network. The cause of death was not announced.

Marinho founded Organizacoes Globo, which included television, cable, pay television and print media outlets. Among his holdings were Brazil's third-largest newspaper, O Globo, a network of radio stations, the Editora Globo publishing house and recording labels.

Marinho also controlled other companies grouped under Globo Comunicacoes e Participacoes, or Globopar, of which he was chairman of the board.

With a fortune estimated at $6.4 billion in 2000, Marinho saw his personal worth decline after financial setbacks and the fall of Brazil's currency. This year, he failed to make Forbes magazine's annual list of billionaires.

But it was his hands-on management of TV Globo, with its 113 stations and affiliates that reach into virtually every Brazilian home, that gave Marinho unparalleled influence over shaping the nation's culture, politics and self-image.

A self-described patriot with close ties to Brazil's 1964-85 military regime, Marinho unabashedly used Globo's power to favor chosen politicians and snub those he deemed bad Brazilians. He could make or break candidates, and presidential hopefuls routinely made the pilgrimage to Rio for his blessing.

"He is the owner of Brazil," Homero Sanchez, a former Globo executive said some years ago in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "He permits Brazil to have a president. He controls everything in this country -- communications and everything."

In 1985, when President-elect Tancredo Neves picked Marinho's close friend Antonio Carlos Magalhaes as his minister of communications, he reportedly justified his choice by saying: "I'll fight with the army minister, but not with Roberto Marinho."

Born in Rio de Janeiro on Dec. 3, 1904, Marinho went to work at the daily O Globo after the death of his father, Irineu Marinho, who founded the newspaper in 1925 and died 23 days later. Starting as a cub reporter, the young Marinho quickly advanced, becoming managing editor in 1931 at the age of 26.

In the early 1960s, he obtained a TV broadcasting license for Rio de Janeiro and signed a contract with the Time-Life Group, giving the U.S. corporation a share of profits from the television venture in exchange for financial and technical assistance.

After opening the Rio channel in 1965, the Globo network began expanding rapidly. Time-Life participation is credited with giving the new network a decisive competitive edge over its established competition.

The Time-Life agreement was later rescinded, but Marinho's media empire continued to expand.

A patron of the arts, Marinho sponsored many exhibitions through the Roberto Marinho Foundation and had a private collection of about 700 works of art, including Pancettis and Mondrians, at his estate in Rio's Cosme Velho district, at the feet of the Christ statue. In 1993 he was elected to the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

Marinho was married three times, the last to Lily Carvalho. He is survived by her, as well as three sons and several grandchildren.

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