Do You Want Your Own Radio in Brazil? Get Yourself a Godfather First

A radio station studio in Brazil Community radios have existed in Brazil since the 1980s, long before
they became regulated in 1998. More recently they have been a staple on the
pages and space of the great media. We are reminded by their alleged
interference on our chaotic air traffic or when the Federal Police and Anatel
(National Telecom Agency) execute their constant orders to apprehend broadcast
equipment and put unauthorized radio operators in jail.

Duly authorized community radios run by associations and foundations should be one of the most important tools for an effective democratization of communications in Brazil. They should be a stage for those who do not exercise their human right to communicate, because they often are not even aware of this right. Unfortunately, that is not what happens.

First, because the law regulating community radio is exclusionary. Instead of making the exercise of the right to communicate easier, it often makes it more difficult. And second, because the process to grant a concession for a community station is an unending and tortuous path very few are able to tread. There are thousands of grant requests awaiting authorization at the Ministry of Communications.
A Trivial Practice
The argument that community radio stations have become a political bargain tool and are shaping up a practice we call “electronic colonelism of a new kind” was the basic orientation for developing this study – created by Instituto para o Desenvolvimento do Jornalismo (Projor) (Institute for Development of Journalism), with support from the Ford Foundation.

For over 18 months we worked in building a database of 2,205 stations authorized to broadcast by the Ministry of Communications (this represents 80.4% of all radio stations that had received their authorizations up to January 2007). 
After that we were able to conduct a series of surveys with data restricted from public access, among which were statistics about the number of filings authorized by the Ministry of Communications and those forwarded by the Executive Branch – Chief of Staff/Office of the Institutional Affairs Secretary (SRI) to the National Congress; a statistical table with the number of grants issued individually by the Ministers who held that office during the period of time under study; a calculation of the average time it took for the filings to transit at the Executive – Chief of Staff/SRI; cross reference of data relative to the transit times at the Executive – Chief of Staff/SRI with the database “Pleitos” (a program for registering and approval of requests for “case follow-up” forwarded by politicians to the Ministry of Communications); and cross-reference of the names of legal representatives and members of the executive boards of the community radio stations reviewed, with the following lists:

(a) candidates elected and defeated in the 2000 and 2004 municipal elections;

(b) candidates elected and defeated in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 state and federal elections;

(c) campaign donors in the 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006 elections;
(d) members of political parties;
(e) archives of publications in towns where the community stations operate; and

(f) list of quota holders, partners, directors and board members of commercial, education and community radio broadcasting organizations.

The primary results we obtained confirm the existence of an alarming picture in the industry: most community stations operate in an “irregular” fashion in the country because they did not succeed in becoming duly authorized; and among the authorized minority, more than half operate illegally.

Among the 2,205 stations surveyed, we were able to identify political linkages in 1,106 – or 50.2% of them. Although there is considerable variation among these linkages in the states, the same does not happen when we compare regions.

The five states in which we find the highest rate of political linkages (Tocantins, Amazonas, Santa Catarina, Espírito Santo and Alagoas) represent the North, South, Southeast and Northeast regions – four of the five regions within Brazil. We are talking, therefore, about a nationwide political practice.

Bureaucratic Paths
We also identified a considerable number of community radio stations with religious affiliations: 120 of them, or 5.4% of the total. The Catholic religion dominates these links, with 83 stations, or 69.2%; 33 stations, or 27.5%, were linked to Protestant churches; 2 stations, or 1.6%, to both religions; 1 to the Espírita doctrine and 1 to the Umbanda religion.

Although significant, the results we obtained surely underestimate the true prevalence of religious affiliations. The only available sources of information were newscasts, official church pages, information contained in the organizations’ own rules or the denominations “pastor” and “priest” in the names used in the ballot boxes by the candidates in the elections we surveyed.

Finally, we proved the occurrence of duplicity in the granting of 26 stations – or 1.2% of the community associations or foundations. Duplicity means the existence of at least one member of the executive board of the community station who serves on the board of another educational, commercial or community radio broadcasting concessionaire – something prohibited by law.

In proportional terms, the prominent states were Mato Grosso, with 4.6% of duplicities; Minas Gerais, with 2.1%; Rio de Janeiro, with 1.9%; Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul and Pernambuco, with 1.8%.

Our overall results confirm the central argument of the existence of an “electronic colonelism of a new kind” involving the licensing of community radio stations.

The very beginning of the process to obtain a license from the Minister of Communications makes it clear that the existence of a “political godfather” is a determining factor not only for the approval of the request but also for the speed of the bureaucratic path.

In the next stage – the Executive – some filings were accelerated while others got stuck with no technically related reason to justify such procedure. In practical terms, the result is the approval of community stations for some organizations and non-approval for others.

Perverse Consequences
Finally, the data reveal that there is an intense political usage of the authorizations on two levels: the local, where they have their value in “retail” politics, with very localized relevance; and in the state-federal level, with “wholesale” type actions by building an environment formed by various community stations controlled by local political forces who owe the “favor” of their legalization to a political godfather.

Of the 1,106 detected cases where there was a political link, exactly 1,095 (99%) were related to one or more politicians acting at the local level. Besides, all the other 11 remaining cases refer to links with some politician acting at the state level or candidates defeated on federal elections. We detected no cases of direct correlation between community stations and people elected for federal office.

The historical linkage between radio broadcasting grantings and professional politicians was therefore confirmed and remains in existence in community radio broadcasting. But now it happens in a novel fashion: it is the localization of the link between radio broadcasting stations and professional politicians using the “electronic colonelism of a new kind.”

When we discuss the digitalization of radio and the increasingly clear need for modifications in the current regulatory mark for mass electronic communications, the results of this study, besides confirming the political practice of a “electronic colonelism of a new kind”, point to the emergence of a gloomy scenario with perverse consequences for the consolidation of Brazilian democracy.

To know this scenario is an indispensable condition to being able to transform it.

You can read the final report of the study “Community radio: electronic colonelism of a new kind (1999-2004)” [PDF file; 1.72 MB] at the following address:

Venício A. de Lima and Cristiano Aguiar Lopes are Brazilian journalists. This article appeared originally in Observatório da Imprensa.

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:


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