In Brazil, TV Is Untouchable

 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
by: Alberto

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

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

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

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

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

This article was
originally published in Observatório da Imprensa —

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.

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