Brazil is huge. From northern rainforests to southern winters, we are a
nation of 188,917,618 people. In spite of this territorial vastness and
geographic differences, we all speak the same language and recognize each other
as citizens of one country. Anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro always said this was an
Illiteracy still afflicts 15 million natives, notwithstanding a marked improvement in the last 60 years. Daily circulation of the ten largest printed media in Brazil is approximately two million copies. Access to digital media is still modest. Computers are still luxury items. On the other hand, 90% of Brazilian households have at least one TV set. Television is par excellence the primary and farthest-reaching communication medium in the country.
We are a country of few readers but a rich oral culture and these modern times brought a definite trend evidenced by the habit of watching television. More than an electronic appliance, TV invades the domestic and daily environment of Brazilians. It has become something private and intimate. It unifies the country and helps to give it a single identity.
Except for some regional programming, commercial networks show practically the same content to every household in this gigantic nation. It reaches everyone indiscriminately. Under this light, it is a democratic vehicle.
No other mass communication medium does what TV does. It produces symbolic assets, disseminates content and provides sharing of cultural codes. It is in its own massive nature to provide repercussion of images, representations, themes, values, attitudes and manners of behavior in large scale.
For better or worse, TV makes the world accessible to everyone. It is also a space for talk and a stage for social discourse. For a huge segment of the population, television newscasts provide the only contact with the far-away politics of the palace chambers in Planalto Central. If only because of the premises stated here, television and its products deserve and demand serious thought.
Of all our TV newscasts, Jornal Nacional is undoubtedly the one with the largest audience. It is a place where one can measure the value of the news. It is also the primest and most expensive time of the network. Thirty seconds of a nationally broadcast commercial in Rede Globo de Televisão cost advertisers 291 thousand reais (150 thousand dollars).
The significance of TV in our country could fill many academic papers. At least one full chapter should be solely devoted to the codes disseminated by Jornal Nacional. If one is to believe the editorial content of this medium, we are a country who loves its Carnaval and cannot resist the sound of a single drum or musical noise without being immediately overcome by feelings of joy unknown in any other country. We are a party people, for whom life and all its difficulties are a piece of cake.
Charismatic Religious Leader
We are also zealous Catholics with a special devotion to the recently sanctified Father Galvão. We love the Pope and we believe that His Holiness is the true and only representative of God here on Earth. And of course, we are all sports fanatics who are already tired of waiting for the emotions of the Pan 2007 games, to be held in the marvelous city of Rio de Janeiro.
It must be true because at least one of these topics has dominated most of the 40 minutes of every single night’s newscast since early this year, all to fit an agenda created to cater to the financial interests of the broadcasting station.
Having secured the rights to rebroadcast the “largest Brazilian popular celebration,” Globo started flooding us as early as January with all kinds of reports about the percussion masters, the magic of the outdoor parade, the anonymous artisans of the great spectacle, the intense work going on backstage in the samba schools, the history behind the baiana section and the joy in all these good people who inhabit Brazil.
With Carnaval over, it was all about the Pope’s visit. Rede Globo, by the way, was the only network to have any increase of ratings in the whole coverage of the pontiff visit. They surely deserved it. For almost two months we followed the progress of the embroiderers working on the vestments Benedict XVI would use in terra brasilis, the chair on which he was going to sit, the preparation for the outdoor masses, the setup of the stages, the security, the preparations going on in Aparecida (interior of São Paulo), the musicians who would play at the celebrations, what the pope was going to eat and who would cook it, the recipes and what the bishops would wear, who would come to the party and who would be blessed enough to get to meet the pope.
No stories about his controversial past in the Hitlerist youth movement, or about his persecution, while head of the Holy Office, of the more progressive aisle of the Roman Catholic Church. Leonardo Boff, the Brazilian theologian who was disciplined by then Cardinal Ratzinger, was ignored altogether in the coverage. The order of the day was to transform the German arrival into a religious leader who is charismatic and loved by all.
Remote Control Can Be Revolutionary
Finally the pope exits the scene and here come the Pan 2007 games, on which the station also has exclusive broadcasting rights. For a long while now, the newscast has been introducing every Brazilian athlete scheduled to participate in the games as well as their dreams, achievements, the bed on which each one will sleep in the Olympic villa, how beautiful all the newly-built facilities look like, the friendliness of cariocas who will welcome the tourists and a Brazil able to host the Olympics or a World Cup in the near future.
And nothing about the scandalous numbers during the building of the infrastructure for the championship which has already consumed 1.6 billion dollars of taxpayer money and is still not completed. The budget in 2002 was 205 million dollars. The variation was a trifle 684%.
Rede Globo and the editors of Jornal Nacional shove critical journalism aside in order to gear the public towards their purchased programming. Actually, agenda setting is one of the theories of journalism. The theory investigates the power and limits of the media to establish agendas or guide daily topics and public opinion.
It scrutinizes workplace and happy hour conversations and how far they go in reflecting newspaper content. The claim was never proved and the variables in this complex and dialogical relationship between media and public are too numerous anyway. One may never know how strongly the former affects the latter, its preferences and the hierarchy of the news.
The effects of journalism are limited, even in television. The public has its own dynamics and the network knows this very well, which explains why Globo takes constant measurements of its soap opera ratings, for example, in order to make decisions on modifications in the plot or fate of its characters. But it needs to be said that networks do try to set agendas for our lives, our tastes and the subjects of our daily conversations. No doubt about it.
PS: Obviously nothing in my herein stated criticism amounts to a request for closing the station’s concession. I believe in public opinion and the free exercise of democracy and that is why I think each person is able to choose what to watch and how to watch it, with no interference from a paternalistic government.
In my case, for example, the station has had an opposite and undesired effect. Closing a station is unjustifiable even in this case, notwithstanding the history of Globo network, oftentimes obscure.
The remote control can be a revolutionary tool. Also, I believe in the ability of journalism professionals to rethink and reformulate their professional practices.
Larissa Grau is a Brazilian journalist. This article appeared originally in the Observatório da Imprensa – www.observatoriodaimprensa.com.br.
Translated by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is a certified member of the American Translators Association. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.