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Brazzil - Media - July 2004

Brazil's Media: US to the Rescue

Compare today's big Brazilian magazine or newspaper to its counterpart
edition of a decade ago. Editorial space shrank, information
density diminished, and text quality dipped. A generation of
40-years old has been replaced by young talents deprived of any
commitment to journalism and accepting indecent salaries.

Alberto Dines


Picture The news was good—the sale of 13.8 percent of Grupo Abril's holding company to Capital International Inc., of CapitalGroup, the third largest fund manager in the US.

For the following reasons:

* Until now, only two were the proposed solutions to the crisis in the Brazilian media, and both were dismal: Pró-Mídia (Pro-Media), a line of special credit from BNDES (National Bank for Development), which eventually will in some form subject borrowers to federal government interests; and the green light to predators, which already has placed part of our daily and weekly press under the all-is-fair and blackmail regime.

* The sale of shares of one of Latin-America's media giants is the first outcome of the amendment to Article 222 of the Constitution. Enacted two years ago, it aimed at capitalizing national media organizations and, most of all, transforming archaic family groups into transparent public companies.

* Upon announcing the sale to Capital Group, Roberto Civita, Chairman of the Board of Abril, stated that the transaction cleared the way for the company to go public in the future.

* Such IPO will mark the beginning of a process of institutional facelift within the Brazilian media industry, which is still in the Stone Age when compared to other business segments, particularly their big advertisers.

* Equally auspicious is the fact that Abril's new partner is a fund manager, not a multinational media or financial conglomerate. Pension or investment fund companies are viewed as "neutrals" in political terms, concerned exclusively in generating profits for investors. They are not interested in other dividends.

When other Brazilian funds, inspired by Capital Group, decide to invest their resources in sound media projects, feeding off the government's breast will fizzle out, and partnerships—that have tarnished the image of the nation's press—between media and the state (or political groups) will crumble.

Not only in regional press, but also in the Rio-São Paulo market, many are the media channels artificially sustained, whose only purpose is to serve their owners' political and electoral interests.

Talent Incubator

The concerning aspect over Abril's pioneering operation is the premise upon which media employers have established themselves: productivity gain can only be attained by quality loss.

What has been denoted as a "slim down process" in editorial rooms, set in motion almost 10 years ago, has led to the most formidable qualitative collapse in the history of national journalism.

Compare today's big magazine or newspaper to its counterpart edition of a decade ago. Title and graphics may be the same, the company is the same, stockholders and executives as well, however, topics have been trivialized, little bits and items are valued more highly, editorial space shrank, information density diminished, and text quality dipped.

Most importantly, a generation of 40-years old with 20 years of experience has been replaced by young talents, hired for their dual aptitude of bowing to demands of executives and media professionals deprived of any commitment to journalism and accepting salaries that their predecessors would have considered indecent.

Until very recently, the Brazilian press served as a breeding ground and incubator of talents to the world of academics, business, politics, and even judicial (the current Supreme Court Chief Justice, Edson Vidigal, had a career in important editorial rooms).

The press was one of the thinking elites' engines, not only for the value of its output, but also for the quality of human resources. Those who survived remain as top notch players; however, the renovation turned things inside out.

Forgotten Printed Press

Today, journalism, driven by imposed "gains in productivity," appears destined to specializing in the making of future event promoters, communications advisors, etc. etc., needed professionals indeed, but non-essential to the process of cultural enrichment of a developed society.

The auspicious announcement by Grupo Abril, on July 7, practically coincides with the unveiling of a study by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), on June 29, which forecasts overall growth at 6.3 percent for the media and entertainment sectors in the next four years.

One major newspaper, O Globo, was first to report (6/30/04, page 30), and another big daily, A Folha de S. Paulo, cut its own version days later on the cover of its arts, entertainment & around-town section (7/11/04).

For Latin America, PwC indicates a growth higher than average (6.5 percent), mostly in the cable TV segment, where the rate is expected at 9.2 percent.

What captures the attention of such seemingly optimistic prognosis is the focus: for PwC, media stands for electronic-media or entertainment-media (TV, movies, DVD, videogames). References to the internet are linked to games.

There's no mentioning printed press. As far as books, A Folha came out with very unenthusiastic figures: a miserly 0.1 percent overall growth in 2004, and until 2008, an estimated 2.8 percent.

Profits and Intelligence

In truth, the uplifting figures conceal a discouraging reality: journalism and the generation of information are irrelevant, or secondary at best. The so-called "cultural industry" leans toward an image-based industry, where reading plays an insignificant role.

Which throws us back to the erosion in quality of the nation's printed press: while in the US, Europe, and Japan the expansion of the entertainment media is able to maintain balance by adhering to sources off the printed press, what is going to happen in Brazil, whose newspapers and magazines—with few exceptions—have opted for a process of quality dilapidation?

How do we counterbalance a culture of videogames when "gains in productivity" in editorial rooms inflict so much loss in substance on the assembly lines?

In which form will a large national medium be able to offer a chunk of its capital to pension funds if executives from such funds turn to foreign magazines and newspapers as their information channel?

Competitive organizations can provide competent journalism just as well, and gains in productivity can take place without squandering intelligence.

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 Imprensawww.observatoriodaimprensa.com.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Eduardo Assumpção de Queiroz. He is a freelance translator, with a degree in Business and almost 20 years of experience working in the fields of economics, communications, social and political sciences, and sports. He lives in Boca Raton, Florida. His email: eaqus@adelphia.net.

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