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Brazzil - Media - July 2004

US Media Is Brazil's Business

Why should Brazil care about cartelization and the end of
diversity in the U.S. information sector? Well, it is our
business and we should care for many reasons, the main one
being the Federal Communications Commission. That agency
has a clearly progressive vocation, in the American democracy.

Alberto Dines


Picture Another pleasant surprise comes from the great newspaper founded by Júlio Mesquita, this time showing a welcome willingness to abolish taboos and open the debate about a major ghost threatening the press—the concentration of the media in huge corporate conglomerates.

It is hard to find among large newspapers such drive and audacity to confront the appetites of these all-powerful groups, either domestically or abroad. Big papers are produced by big corporations with big defensive instincts that usually favor collectivism and the preservation of the status quo.

This is not the case of Estado de S. Paulo: the paper's defensive instinct pushes it against immobility and the need for propriety. The unfreezing (or bang-on-the-table) season started on January 13th, 2003, when the paper dedicated its main editorial to the cartelization of communications in the U.S.

That editorial was enough to cause the inclusion in the agenda of the Conselho de Comunicação Social (Council for Social Communications) a discussion about concentration and cross-ownership of communication media in Brazil.

More recently, in a speech, the newspaper's director Ruy Mesquita invested against the "Murdochization" of contemporary journalism (reference to media shark Rupert Murdoch, a symbol of cartelization).

In turn, another director of the group, Fernão Lara Mesquita, in a presentation before the Senate, made his stage entrance with an incisive exposé of the vertiginous process of cartelization of the American press.

The reader may want to ask: and what business is this of ours? Why should we care about cartelization and the end of diversity in the U.S. information sector?

Well, it is our business and we should care—very much so—for many reasons, the main one being the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). That regulating agency was created in the 1930s of the century past, during the era of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, and has a clearly progressive vocation, just as the other creations of the man responsible for the renewal of American democracy.

Public Interest

Along its history, the FCC has been able to exercise its role as a brake for the predatory impetus of unbridled capitalism in the field of communications and entertainment.

The agency rarely gets involved in the content circulated in the media, but recently it has penalized radio and TV channels for broadcasting content considered to be obscene.

Its role consists of protecting competition and preserving diversity in the media system in order to ensure equidistance and balance.

Democratic Cornerstone

The FCC has been harassed by the appetites of the great corporate conglomerates and their partners in the financial sector because the acronym has become a synonym of regulation and control—two concepts they deem intolerable.

In the Bush administration, the steam roller of American conservatism has caused huge damage at FCC: important requirements concerning corporate concentration have been mitigated and subverted.

In spite of its deformities, the agency still serves as a reference and is still regarded as a paradigm for defending society against the dizzying process of mergers that so disfigures both press and journalism—journalism, yes, because of its attempts to portray journalism as a trailer behind industries with no commitment whatsoever with the public interest.

To be concerned with FCC does not mean to submit to the agenda of most domestic debates in the U.S., notwithstanding allegations from Brazilian corporate lobbies.

It is, instead, a legitimate concern, and a civic one, because while Americans still have some awareness of the need to recover Roosevelt's legacy, in Brazil we can only cling to the vague hope of one day having a regulatory agency inspired in the FCC.

A Heritage of Struggle

As long as the National Congress accepts to be influenced by those of its own members who are also concessionaires of radio and TV services, it is impossible to expect any initiative coming from the Legislative with the power to repress this concentration and to heal the media system.

Even if the Lula administration loses its incomprehensible and incoherent hatred for the concept of regulatory agencies, a project of this nature will never pass through the commissions or the plenary sessions in Congress.

It will be kept in the drawer for a few decades longer, because these physiological Representatives and Senators have no shame in publicly stating their ethical contradictions—they even enjoy it.

And those who would be able to endorse the creation of an agency for this purpose will never step ahead to openly face the resentment of the corporate lobbies of the electronic media.

This shows how important this crusade just initiated by the Estadão really is. We are talking about a newspaper with strictly liberal ideas, against state control, who is nevertheless showing its commitment to the goal of creating mechanisms for controlling the perversions of the free enterprise system in the field of journalism and social communications.

In spite of all political difficulties, the powerful interests at stake and the insensitivity of the rest of the press regarding its future as a respectable and diversified institution, Estadão has made a bet and added one more cause to its heritage of struggles.

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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