Brazil Needs to Be Cured from Its Acute Televisitis

Television in BrazilAs always, the intentions could not have been better: the movement against media concentration in Brazil is worth all efforts. But, as always, the government messed up in the execution. The decree that created RTVI (Institutional TV Broadcasting), on February 24, falls short for improvisation, lack of transparency, and timing.

Two weeks earlier, on February 10, the government had created TV Brasil, to enable the State (meaning, the TV stations of the three branches) to speak to neighboring nations.

Now, with RTVI, it hopes to offer most city governments in the country the possibility to produce a local TV to “make public the activities at the municipal executive branch.”

It’s no coincidence, a sure case of television fever. And like all fevers, some symptoms of dysfunction, not difficult to diagnose: the kickoff to political campaign season.

If the administration truly aims to offer local governments unbiased TV coverage, it doesn’t need to resort to an intervention with all the signs of political campaigning device.

In order to have greater impact – and above all, lasting – all the government had to do was – via Communications Ministry – put an end to thunderous irregularities within the process of TV and radio concessions, the genetic aberration inside the Brazilian mediatic system implemented by then President José Sarney.

The major problems within the informative field in Brazil begin at the distribution and renewal of concession channels: media concentration on few organizations and control of local news.

Remiss Oversight

Anyone who examines the TV and radio environment in the state of Pará, for example, will understand the reason why the erupting volcano in the region of Terra do Meio was reported only after the death of the missionary Dorothy Stang.

If the objective is to democratize information and intensify opinion diversity, the road will be much different than the RTVI system. First of all, because RTVI will not operate in open TV, but in the restricted cable TV system.

Second, because instead of the control from house representatives and political chieftains on open TV, we will have mayors, usually fueled by local oligarchies, transformed into diligent TV producers.

Who will stop these TV burgermeisters-anchors from using their channels to persecute the opposition?

If the Communications Ministry (notoriously partisan) has clearly been remiss in controlling concessions of open TV and radio, if the Justice Ministry (theoretically the administration’s strong hand) trembles in fear before the power of politicians-concessionaires and fails to impose adequate time slots within the open system’s schedule, how can we expect the government to dig down inside the caves to stop the bossing around of mayors or their political groups?

Dubious Fever

It’s evident that lobbying from private TV did not welcome RTVI, but that doesn’t mean that the government is right in creating it. Private lobbying is only interested in satiating their respective appetites, free from any public interest.

They stomped their feet when the Lula administration (in line with policies from former Justice Minister José Gregori) decided to set straight those TV stations that aired inappropriate shows in the afternoon hours.

A Justice Ministry’s employee was removed in just over 24 hours after the act was published in the nation’s Diário Oficial (Official Registry), succumbing to formidable pressure from representatives-concessionaires (the majority of them evangelicals, from the Liberal Party).

If the government truly wants to democratize local media in Brazil, and oxygenate the information that flows through it, the administration needs an extra dose of courage to, first, defy political-private interest conglomerates that deface electronic information and, then, fight off some 30% of congressmen who either, directly or indirectly, detain TV and radio concessions.

After the sound defeat in the House and the election of the king of physiologism, Severino Cavalcanti, as Speaker, it is hard to imagine the Lula administration daring to face off the lobbying from congressmen-concessionaires.

The government thought better to let them be and ordered – from its “legiferation” laboratory – a small tailor-made decree, from which a solution pitch has just come out, RTVI.

They should order from that same lab a drug to eradicate the furious fever that – 20 months prior to the election – appears very suspect: acute televisitis.

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. You can reach him by email at obsimp@ig.com.br.

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 São Paulo, Brazil. His email: eaqus@terra.com.br.

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