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Brazzil - Media - February 2004

In Brazil, TV Is Untouchable

We had a dramatic example of the incompetence of the Brazilian
State in curbing the programming abuses practiced by commercial
television. It represented a victory for trashy programming
and showed an unwillingness to react to pressure groups. The
media asks for credit as if it were a creditor, not a relapsing debtor.

Alberto Dines

For the apocalyptic among us, the aftermath of the Hutton Report means that public TV will never be the same. Apocalyptic folks are usually nihilists and nihilists don't like to roll up their sleeves and work on solutions.

BBC was excessively penalized in the David Kelly suicide case, while the government of Tony Blair emerged unjustly immaculate. The lord magistrate made big mistakes, as we have plentifully seen on the media. But to ignore that BBC was arrogant is the attitude most likely to lead public journalism to an impasse with a deadly potential.

Public television is expected to establish paradigms for the creation of accountability standards that can cause changes in the behavior of commercial networks. If public television forgets its pluralistic public commitment and assumes an engaged and radical stance, it ceases to be an alternative to become a clone of commercial TV.

Public television is an alternative; in fact, it is the only alternative to counterweigh the voracity of the private media system. The fact that it has been put against the whipping post, as writer Mario Vargas Llosa put it, does not mean that it has actually been convicted. It is just fitting that responsible institutions should submit to public scrutiny.

Private electronic media companies are the ones that abhor debate, refuse criticism, reject any form of inspection and sit on the Olympus above good and evil. They do that because they forget that they also are public. They are concessions of a collective national heritage administered by the State and they should pay for it with responsible action.

To Be What Is Not

Last week we had a dramatic example of the incompetence of the Brazilian State in curbing the programming abuses practiced by commercial television. On Wednesday (2/4), the Diário Oficial (Federal Daily Gazette) published a decision signed by the director of the Departamento de Classificação Indicativa (Rating Appointment Department) of the Justice Ministry in which several police shows were considered to be "not recommended for audiences younger than 21". Among them were two highly-rated shows: Cidade Alerta (Alert City) on the Record network, and Brasil Urgente, made by Bandeirantes—the other three, of the same genre, come from Fortaleza, capital of the state of Ceará.

The information published on the following day, Thursday, in Folha de S. Paulo (page E8) highlighted the unprecedented nature of the decision and revealed that the Justice Ministry had been pressing TV networks to adapt to the demands. Given the generalized grudge against anything unprecedented and innovative in Brazil, a repeal of the measure made the news on Friday (front page story, with headline on page 15, in O Globo). The director who had signed the decision was promptly fired because the new rating had not been submitted to his superiors—National Justice Secretary, Cláudia Chagas, and Justice Minister, Márcio Thomaz Bastos.

The same O Globo story stated that Mozart Rodrigues da Silva, the punished officer, had held his position for four years. He was no neophyte, therefore, and knew very well what he was talking about, specially considering the unleashing of several forceful attempts by former Justice Minister, José Gregori, during the last administration, to promote a new general rating of showing times in order to comply with constitutional provisions.

The same story disclosed that on the same day the Diário Oficial was published, the Justice Minister himself was visited in his office by a group of congressmen who are owners of broadcasting stations, among them "Bishop" Rodrigues (PL-RJ), a man notoriously involved with both the evangelical lobby and the electronic media lobby.

The dismissed officer is supposed to return to his old job in the Ministry of Science and Technology. And here is where the government gets into complications:

** To sign a decision of this relevance without consulting your superiors is a serious fault. A serious fault is punished with prompt dismissal with no formalities—even at the government level—not with transfers.

** The government was obviously alarmed with the reaction from the congressmen (specially from one of the exponents of the vice-president's party) but it also became scared with the possibility of exemplary and severe punishment turning on the skylights over something it did not want to discuss.

** On Thursday morning, the media companies supposed to be affected by the new rating informed all journalists interested in covering the developments in the Folha revelations that the government had decided to revoke the decision.

It was, in fact, both revoked and hushed up. But the case is not closed as far as this Observatório da Imprensa is concerned. It is evidently clear that the government was preparing something drastic in terms of new ratings for show times—a strong claim of audiences all over Brazil, which already has the support of the large majority of PT congressmen. Also evident was the indecision on the part of the government in carrying the project forward.

This indecision looks even more serious when we consider that the BNDES will be releasing its decision on the opening of a line of credit to media companies. Opinion polls indicate that Brazilians are willing to give the media industry this privilege, provided that it is offset by compensations of a social nature. In the case of television, these compensations basically mean an increase in the quality level of media programming.

In these circumstances, the slackening in the new rating measures is twice discouraging. It signals a victory for trashy programming and it lays bare an unwillingness to exercise the indispensable controls and to react to pressure groups who bet on the status quo. The media is now free to walk up to the windows of official credit, relieved of any concerns or obligations. As if it were a creditor, not a relapsing debtor.

Quality Paradigm

That's where public television comes in. Brazil has two large public networks—TVE and Cultura—with a fabulous potential. Albeit independent, these two stations are convergent, specially in their willingness to fully exercise their social mission.

A good portion of the public may find delight in Big Brother, but another appreciable portion thinks they deserve better. Why, then, should we benefit one group in detriment of the other? Where is our sense of justice and balance?

TVE has just released the results of a seminar on the role of public television; TV Cultura is launching its new programming grid showing a special emphasis in journalism. Both are ready to meet the demand for quality public television and both are competent and willing to fulfill their alternative roles in a pluralistic society.

Consensus on the quality of public radio and television is highly valued—we can find it even in an England torn in the dispute around the "heating up" of information on Saddam Hussein's arsenals. This is a consensus that nihilists do not wish to see. This is a consensus that the public TV network in Brazil wishes to explore.

Alberto Dines, the author, is a journalist, founder and researcher at LABJOR—Laboratório de Estudos Avançados em Jornalismo (Laboratory for Advanced Studies in Journalism) at UNICAMP (University of Campinas) and editor of the Observatório da Imprensa. He also writes a column on cultural issues for the Rio daily Jornal do Brasil. You can reach him by email at obsimp@ig.com.br
This article was originally published in Observatório da Imprensa — www.observatoriodaimprensa.com.br
Translated by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact: terezab@sbcglobal.net

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