TV Lula’s Ambition: To Cover the World with Brazil’s Good News

TV LulaOn May 24, 2010, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil launched International TV Brazil, a government-owned television channel that will broadcast in Portuguese to forty-nine countries in Africa. While this is not Brazil’s first international television channel, it is the first government-owned one and means to set a different tone for the programs that it features.

The channel will focus on bringing Brazil, its culture, and its people to over three million Brazilian expatriates in addition to others around the world and will reach not only Africa, but also the United States, Latin America and Asia in the near future.

In general, Brazilian culture has become hugely popular due to growing audiences for its music, football, and novelas, or soap operas. Africa’s relationship to Brazil is unique, given Brazil’s historical ties with the continent and the bond of language.

Brazil has the largest black population outside of Africa; nearly fifty percent of Brazilians classify themselves as having some degree of African origin. International TV Brazil is a way for Brasília to bring itself closer to Africa.

The channel is expected to attract large audiences in Portuguese-speaking nations such as Angola, Mozambique, Cabo Verde, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, and Santo Tomé and Principe. Besides being very popular in these countries, International TV Brazil is also likely to be sought after by Brazilians and other Portuguese speakers living in nearby areas.

Globo’s Big Footprints

The powerful media group Globo owns Brazil’s other international television channel, TV Globo International. Lula is highly critical of this station, insisting that it portrays Brazil negatively and inaccurately. More specifically, Lula claims that the administration projected on Globo International isn’t representative of the actual government and that International TV Brazil will be the remedy for this malady.

However, despite Lula’s claims, the news portrayed by Globo isn’t necessarily biased or inaccurate. Globo International is well known and is trusted by viewers everywhere to be fairly accurate and at least highly professional. Globo is also popular around the world for its novelas and enjoys a large market share for their exports, attracting large audiences in places such as South Korea and the Philippines.

Globo is an immensely powerful group in Brazil and dominates much of the media. The majority of the Brazilian population only has ready access to free television channels, and Globo is one of them. Globo is everywhere and does everything. It shows how to use contraceptives, which ultimately affects the way women choose to lead their lives.

One can count on lower birth rates in areas where Globo novelas are extremely popular. This trend has had an impact all over Brazil, and the nation has witnessed its birth rate sink from 6.3 children per woman in 1960 to 2.3 in 2000 to 1.8 in 2006. While novelas alone cannot explain the dive, the popularity of Globo’s shows has definitely affected the lives of many Brazilians.

The use of contraception in some of Globo’s shows is not a casual choice. There is an agreement between the media group and the Population Media Center (PMC), a Brazilian population control organization. Globo gives free airtime to this group and in return, PMC makes available free research for its writers.

Novelas aside, Globo also has been able to largely influence election outcomes on both a local and national level. Although Globo itself is formally nonpartisan, many of its employees and talent are middle and upper class in their identification, personally preferring more conservative candidates such as José Serra to Lula.

In the 1989 presidential race between Fernando Collor de Mello (whose family owns a Globo affiliate in the state of Alagoas) and Lula, Globo’s personnel edited the televised debates so that Collor received significantly more airtime and many of Lula’s less eloquent responses pointedly were shown. This skewed portrayal of the debates helped Collor win the ballot.

Given the history of hostile experiences with Globo, Lula’s motivation to bypass Globo by creating International TV Brazil may also be archly political. Though Lula denies that International TV Brazil will be a staunch advocate for his administration; there is some suspicion from Lula’s critics that there will at least be some bias in his favor on the new channel.

Brazil and Mozambique

International TV Brazil is just one of the many ways Brazil is looking to increase its African exposure. While Brazil’s presence in the continent is not likely to rival that of China or the United States, its visibility has been steadily increasing during the past several years.

Brazil is focusing much of its energy on Mozambique, a close partner in launching International TV Brazil throughout Africa. The Brazilian government has signed a contract with Africa-Multichoice, a major African cable provider. The channel will be based in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, and will be available to cable subscribers at no extra cost.

The announcement of International TV Brazil’s launch featured a recorded message from Mozambique president Armando Guebuza, emphasizing the growing relationship between his country and Brazil.

The relationship is likely to be beneficial for both countries, since Brazil sees Mozambique as a place to harness mineral resources and spread Brazilian influence, while for Mozambique, Brazil is another potential investor to help build its domestic economy.

Brazil’s growing presence in Mozambique can also be seen through its mining company, Vale, which is about to initiate its operations in the city of Tete in central Mozambique. This is an area containing some of the world’s largest coal deposits, and the plan is to export the extracted coal to Brazil, Asia, the Middle East and parts of Europe.

Vale also has already started a project in Moatize, which has a proven reserve of 838 million metric tons of coal, making it one of the world’s largest unexploited coal reserves. Vale is building a coal handling preparation plant with the capacity to process twenty-six million metric tons of coal per year.

Although representing a large component of Brazil’s growing interest in Africa, Vale is not attracting as much attention from the media as Chinese or Indian companies, both of which have deeper ties with Africa and have been investing on a grander scale for longer time periods.

One of the reasons why Brazilian companies do not invest as much as their Chinese or Indian counterparts is that Brazil faces internal company issues, which it must first deal with.

In addition to economic interests, Brazil is working with Mozambique on other fronts. Viva Rio, a Brazilian NGO, and the Rio de Janeiro civilian police force have been working with the Mozambique government in establishing a digital firearms registry in an effort to reduce the number of small arms available in Mozambique.

While the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is providing funding for this project to Mozambique, Brazil is still supplying personnel and other resources to the help the African country with small arms control.

Moreover, on May 12, 2010, the Brazilian Cooperation Agency and agri-livestock research organization Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (Embrapa) signed an agreement to support agri-livestock innovation in Mozambique.

Under this agreement, the Brazilian Cooperation Agency will apply at least $4.2 million USD and Embrapa another $7.9 million USD over a four-year period to strengthen the Mozambican Agrarian Research Institute.

Furthermore, Brazil has pledged to invest US$ 300 million to help develop infrastructure in Mozambique. Brazil’s International Trade Minister Miguel Jorge has laid plans to upgrade the Nacala Airport in northern Mozambique and build a coal terminal in the central city of Beira.

This is the same city from which Vale will be exporting its coal. Brazil also plans to build a one thousand kilometer north-south power line that will link hydroelectric, coal, and gas-fired power stations in central and northern Mozambique with the main consuming areas in the south.

This will make Mozambique less dependent on South Africa, from where it currently receives much of its electricity. Brazil is also helping to facilitate the rehabilitation of a dam located in the southern province of Mozamba in Mozambique.

While all these connections eventually will greatly benefit Brazil while helping build infrastructure in Mozambique, they also force Mozambique to become more reliant on Brazil. Mozambique has taken on loans from Brazil that will take from twelve to fifteen years to repay.

The current trade pattern between Brazil and Mozambique is heavily dominated by Brazilian exports to the country. In 2008, Brazil exported US$ 20 million of goods to Mozambique while the latter exported almost nothing to Brazil.

In 2009, the figure rose to US$ 102.5 million and was still almost entirely composed of Brazilian exports. Moreover, through Mozambique, Brazil has access to the entire southern African market of 250 million people via the Southern African Development Community’s free trade area.

While some of these new developments may help Mozambique become less reliant on countries such as South Africa, the tradeoff is that the former is becoming more dependent on another nation. Mozambique might be able to become more self-sustainable in the long term but as for the short term, it must rely on aid from outside suppliers, be they Brazil or China.

Brazil and Africa

Brazil’s burgeoning ties with Mozambique mirrors those that other countries such as China and the United States have with various African nations. These two aforementioned nations feel the need to create strong alliances with African countries in an effort to gain assured access to their desirable natural resources.

Many African countries largely lack adequate infrastructure as well as other tools to develop industries on their own. Therefore, they must rely on foreign investors. Because of the growing number of foreign countries interested in developing ties with Africa due to its abundant commodities, developed countries have become much more willing to help ameliorate various social problems in exchange for better relations and potentially better access to key resources.

In addition to Vale’s investment in Mozambique, the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht is currently the largest private sector employer and one of the top oil producers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Brazilian steelmaker CSN has also bought a significant share, over sixteen percent, of the Australian mining company Riversdale. Incidentally, India’s Tata Steel also has a substantial stake in the company. Countries such as India, Brazil, and China have an inexhaustible demand for Africa’s raw materials, and a guaranteed supply can greatly benefit these nations’ domestic enterprises.

While exploiting Africa’s natural resources is a concern and efforts are being made to improve the infrastructure, the growing demand in Brazil for these valuable raw materials is still the most important concern and is pushing Brazil to be more competitive with these other commodity suitors.

When Lula went on his African tour, over one hundred Brazilian business executives accompanied him. These businessmen showed special interest in the Angolan oil industry and its plans to double Angola’s oil output within the next four years. In addition, Brazilian companies also won contracts for a US$ 150 million water supply project as well as opportunities in the Angolan cell phone, urban transport and timber processing sectors.

Brazil is interested in alleviating problems that lie not entirely in Mozambique. It is largely involved in the South-South Cooperation, and the ongoing Brazil-Africa dialogue has addressed a number of issues such as food security, the fight against hunger, and rural development.

The South-South Cooperation was created to advance the exchange of technology, resources, and knowledge among developing countries. There is also the hope that this will rival the existing Western dominance as a sort of an anti-imperialism mechanism. Furthermore, Brazil is developing pharmaceutical plants in Mozambique and Namibia to help those infected with HIV.

These plants will manufacture generic anti-retroviral medicines, which can help prolong the lives of those who have been infected. Brazil has turned to a similar method domestically and managed to cut the mortality rate of those infected with HIV/AIDS by fifty percent.

With plans to help modernize the infrastructure in various parts of Africa, Brazil has experienced a dramatic increase in trade with the continent. Brazil, China, and India’s trade volume with Africa rose from US$ 5 billion in 2002 to US$ 19.9 billion in 2007. Brazil has flaunted its status as a donor nation and is making plans to share its technology and other resources with Africa.

TV Lula

International TV Brazil is another way for Brazil to spread its influence and solidify its relationship with Africa. One of the biggest criticisms of International TV Brazil is that it inevitably will become a puppet of the government, giving it grounds for use of the unfortunate nickname, TV Lula.

However, Lula rejects this whimsical claim and hopes that International TV Brazil will end the assumption that all private television is good, while all public television is biased and unreliable. In making the case for International TV Brazil, Lula states that it is possible to make “quality TV that is not pro-government, but it’s not just opposition either.”

This would allow its TV service to have insights to make unbiased political analysis without the fear of displeasing or pleasing anybody. Lula insists that the station will be more than just a shortcut to find ways to make propaganda for the government.

While International TV Brazil may be used in the future to promote certain aspects of Brazil’s foreign policy, today it appears to be more of a status symbol than a propaganda tool.

International TV Brazil will hardly be unique on the international stage. It follows Italy’s RAI, Britain’s BBC, Spain’s TVE, France’s TV5, Japan’s NHK, and Qatar’s Al-Jazeera TV, all of which have global audiences.

The inclusion of International TV Brazil among this list goes hand in hand with Brazil’s increasingly important arc in international affairs. Brazil’s economic development combined with its size, geopolitical realities and aspirations make it a key player in many other settings and regions.

However, this does not mean that International TV Brazil will necessarily have the success prophesied by Lula. As part of spreading a positive image of Brazil, the new facility must also promote a supportive offering committed to the advancement of the host country.

Although becoming “TV Lula” is not necessarily the goal of the channel, it seems impossible to avoid such a status entirely since the Brazilian superstar cannot be described as camera shy.

Jeanie Gong is a research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) – The organization is a think tank established in 1975 to discuss and promote inter-American relationship. Email:


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