Brazil’s Media: US to the Rescue

 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40-years old has been replaced by young talents deprived of any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.
by: Alberto

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

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

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

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

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

This article was
originally published in Observatório da Imprensa —

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:

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