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May 2003

Erasing the National Memory in Brazil

Due to lack of funds, São Paulo's TV Cultura has been reusing old
videotapes to record new shows. Entire series are disappearing,
never to be seen by future generations. One of these shows
is Metrópolis, which showcased Marisa Monte in 1988.
News and children programs have also been erased.

Marianna Casta˙eda

Since its creation in 1969, the Padre Anchieta Foundation has suffered from inadequate funding. These days, however, the situation has deteriorated so much that TV Cultura, the television arm of the foundation, is being forced to reuse videotape in order to record new shows. The TV Cultura channel boasts a significant collection of programs, including interviews with many important political figures, footage of notable events, national and international documentaries, and, above all, numerous cultural programs.

Entire series are disappearing, never to be seen by future generations. One of these, Metrópolis, showcased Marisa Monte in 1988. Her appearance before a live audience marked a significant stage in her career. Indeed, soon after this broadcast she would become one of the most important artists in the country. But neither she nor her fans could have imagined that the tape used to record this performance was erased to make room for new programs.

The much-lauded series Os Bichos, plus some documentaries bought by TV Cultura from the BBC, were also erased. Castelo Rá-Tim-Bum and Mundo da Lua were other programs created by TV Cultura in the 1990s which, along with the great Ibope, won international praise and recognition.

On staff were Dr. Pasquale Cipro Neto, who was in charge of Nossa Língua Portuguesa (Our Portuguese Language), and Serginho Groisman, the man behind Matéria Prima (Raw Material), an interview program. Even the teen audience was not forgotten, with shows like Confissões de Adolescente (Teen Confessions) and Anos Incríveis (Wonder Years). All of these shows are now under threat, if they have not already been erased.

This alarming practice of taping over old programs to record new ones has been occurring now for a year and a half, representing a considerable loss of television achievements. Though previously attracting scant attention within and outside of the network, one morning several staff members protested with whistles before the station office, located in the neighborhood of Água Branca, in the western part of São Paulo, to call attention to the problems of the foundation. Sadly, the protest attracted only 19 employees—of those, only three were armed with whistles.

Other customs have until now been unknown to the audience. The news program Jornal da Cultura, for example, has been archived only partially for two years. Another serious problem in journalism right now is the lack of reporters to cover breaking news in the morning, a shame in such a bustling city like São Paulo. As it is, journalists start work after lunch, which requires the station to purchase footage from stations, which were able to chronicle news worthy A.M. events.

These examples are the most apparent of the crises that the Padre Anchieta Foundation has been facing in recent years. The most recent crisis seems to be motivated by political squabbles. The chaotic situation of the best public TV network in Brazil is a result of a dispute between the director of the Foundation and the governor of São Paulo state, Geraldo Alckmin.

Supported by state funds, the Foundation has yet to receive 6 million reais (2 million dollars) that were promised by the governor after the dismissal of 260 staff members some months ago. The reason, according to insider sources, was the governor's displeasure with the president of the Foundation, Jorge da Cunha Lima. President since 1996, Cunha Lima was accused of mishandling public funds and even more, according to classified documents delivered to the industry's union—embezzling.

Nothing was proven, but the documents eventually found their way into the hands of the governor. Though responsible for more than 70 percent of the station's expenses, the governor wasn't able to replace Jorge da Cunha Lima, the reason being that the Padre Anchieta Foundation operated as a self-governing unit, autonomous from the state. The solution, then, was to pressure him to leave—in effect, avoiding the budget issue—or wait for the Foundation's board members to suggest a "separation" between the Foundation and the president.

And there lay the other dilemma. The board members, comprising 47 individuals, were divided in opinion over the performance of Cunha Lima and were unable to form a consensus about his future. Regarding the current predicament of the station and the accusations levied against Cunha Lima, all the Foundation could do was to release a public statement announcing that the station would continue on the air.

The loser in this war is clearly the audience, witnesses to the gradual decline in TV Cultura's quality of programming, perhaps the only one in the country with truly educational content. Continued inefficiency in budget management and the general indifference to any concrete solution mean only one thing: that Brazilian TV will lose its memory of some of the nation's most culturally and historically significant achievements.

In addition to being a researcher and student at UCLA, Marianna Castañeda is yet another Brazil-mad American who hopes to spend a significant amount of time there. You can reach her here: mcastaneda@arczip.com  



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