#DeleteNetflix Campaign Erupts Over Brazil Corruption Series

(Bloomberg) -- While the world rebels against Facebook Inc., Netflix Inc. is stirring up controversy in Brazil.

A small but loud #DeleteNetflix campaign has burst forth on Twitter since "The Mechanism," a show that is a work of fiction based on the real-life, multi-year corruption probe dubbed Carwash, was added to the streaming service Friday. Ex-users are posting proof of their now-defunct accounts in one of Netflix’s most successful international markets.

Former President Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached in 2016 amid fallout from the scandal, called the show "underhanded and full of lies." Prominent movie critic Pablo Villaca said he canceled his subscription after six years and encouraged others to do the same, saying the decision to air the show was "irresponsible."

"The director invents facts. He doesn’t merely reproduce fake news. He has turned himself into a creator of fake news," according to a post on Rousseff’s website. "It would be like if a movie about the last moments of John Kennedy inserted a Lee Harvey Oswald character making accusations against the victim. Or a movie where Winston Churchill makes a deal with Adolf Hitler to attack the United States."

The debacle took over local media, with director Jose Padilha, who also produced the Netflix hit "Narcos," responding that critics are too focused on the details and missing the bigger picture.

While this isn’t the first portrayal of the corruption probe that continues sweeping through Brazil’s political and business elite, the timing of the release -- on the day the operation hit its 50th phase -- has helped fuel some of the reaction.

After successive scandals that almost took down a second president in as many years, most of Congress and the presidency will be up for grabs in general elections in October. On Monday, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had a 12-year prison sentence for corruption confirmed by an appeals court. He awaits a Supreme Court ruling that will determine whether or not he will be arrested, and with that, influence the role he will play in the elections.

Lula leads all voter polls, and he has repeatedly reiterated his innocence and denounced the Carwash investigation as political persecution, saying he will fight until the very end.

Sergio Moro, the judge who became the face of the Carwash probe and hailed by some Brazilians as a savior of sorts for locking up corrupt politicians and businessmen, said in an TV interview Monday that while there are artistic liberties in both the movie and the show, drawing attention to Brazil’s issue with corruption is important.

The show changed the names of those involved in the case -- Petrobras, as the state-run oil company at the center of the investigation is known, became Petrobrasil. Alberto Youssef, Brazil’s black-market central banker who was one of the to be caught up in the probe, is portrayed as Roberto Ibrahim.

One of the biggest points of controversy is a conversation in which a politician -- who resembles Lula -- talks about an agreement to prevent the corruption probe from proceeding. The episode alludes to a political crisis surrounding President Michel Temer, which took down then-Planning Minister Romero Juca after a recording of a similar conversation between himself and a former executive linked to Petrobras emerged.

"The left was and is just as corrupt as the right. ‘The Mechanism’ has no ideology," Padilha is cited as saying in Estado de S.Paulo newspaper.

Netflix is no stranger to Brazilian political drama. The company placed large ads at the Brasilia airport -- the nation’s capital, where much of the Carwash probe has taken place -- to promote the latest season of House of Cards. When news broke in May that a businessman had secretly recorded the president allegedly discussing hush money in a fresh round of scandal that almost took down the government, that show’s profile tweeted -- in Portuguese -- "It’s getting hard to compete."

On Tuesday, Netflix’s official Twitter account in Brazil posted a video with a mock ad for a "corruption store" featuring products such as fashionable covers for ankle monitors and underwear with pockets to better store bribes.

Netflix didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the impact of the show, viewership or subscription data.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.