«The current electoral campaigns are virtually silent on the issue of communications and the democratization of the media.»
Bruno Marinoni* / Brasil, September 2014
The mandatory broadcasting of the electoral programs of the candidates participating in the 2014 Brazilian elections via TV and radio began on August 19 and will run through October 2. During this period of just over one month, political parties and coalitions have the opportunity to address the population directly and frame the public discussion of the country’s future without the mediation of broadcasters. This is a unique time in which there is penetration of the block created by commercial communications companies (in which only programs that yield profits or are of interest to the owner are included) and it is declared a “free space” for saying anything that one wishes about any matter.
The electoral programs broadcast via TV and radio would be a great opportunity for the parties to discuss topics that are generally left out of the national news, such as the existence of a commercial media oligopoly in Brazil. One could ask, for example, “Why does the Globo network limit discussion of TV and about itself to productions such as ‘Video Show,’ which is merely a showcase for the brand, avoiding a discussion of the right to communication in Brazil?”
However, the current electoral campaigns are virtually silent on the issue of communications and the democratization of the media.
An Unpleasant Matter
When we analyze the presidential elections, the strongest candidates –Dilma Rousseff (PT), Aécio Neves (PSDB) and Marina Silva (PSB)- only offer generic statements in defense of “freedom of expression/information/opinion.” They do not refer to concentration of media ownership, the hypertrophy of the commercial sector, the impossibility of the participation of certain sectors in the production of content, the reproduction of preconceptions and violations of human rights in radio and TV programs, illegal rental of public concessions, the criminalization of community radio, etc. etc. in their government programs. Not even once.
In May 2014, the Executive Commission of the Workers’ Party set out guidelines for the inclusion of discussion of media regulation in the government program of its candidate, current President Dilma Rousseff. Many of these proposals came from the experiences of party members in their defense of the democratization of communications. However, the issue was taken out of the electoral campaign and all that remains is an incentives proposal for the audiovisual industry.
Dilma’s program is a bit bolder when it comes to the Internet. She discusses expansion of broadband infrastructure, the implementation of the Civil Framework for the Internet, the promotion of participation, and access to digital technologies. However, her program does not include statements on the public system for exploiting that sector. In other words, the policy of private expansion of telecommunications with public funding via direct or indirect routes (tax waiver) will continue.
Marina Silva, the candidate who replaced the former governor of the state of Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos, following his recent death proposes “making Internet connection an essential service (like electricity and water)” and an investment in communications technologies that would facilitate the publication of government data and would allow proposals to be submitted to the government via digital platforms. In regard to cultural production, she proposes reviewing the incentives criteria for the audiovisual industry, valuing “aesthetics and exploration” over the commercial result.
Aécio Neves has expressed his commitment to “freedom of expression” and mentions his concern over the expansion of Internet access and the stimulation of collaborative production but does not present specific policy proposals that could impact those areas.
The silence on the democratization of the media reveals the capacity of the station owners to interfere in the public agenda. This happens through direct connections between radio stations and political parties as well as symbolic coercion (a sort of media blackmail) through which candidates who defy those who control practically every social communications channel in the country feel threatened.
In this context, PSOL candidate Luciana Genro mentioned the issue of democratization of communication. According to her government program, “the breakdown of media oligopolies and their policy of a single voice will receive special attention, with a focus on the end of cross-ownership of the media. Our goal will be to create alternative communications instruments such as community radio and TV and public media. We also will emphasize mass participation vehicles.” However, her party has a slot in the electoral programming that is gratuitous and insignificant, limiting the reach of the political expression necessary for this discussion.
Civil Society Proposal
In order to try to gain a foothold in this critical scenario, the National Forum for the Democratization of Communications (FNDC) sent a letter to the candidates explaining the importance of the issue for the strengthening of Brazilian democracy. Attached to the letter were two documents that are the result of the proposals approved by civil society during the first National Communications Conference (Confecom) held in 2009 with the participation of 30,000 Brazilians who came together to discuss proposals for the sector.
One of the documents, “20 Points for Democratizing Communications in Brazil,” includes fundamental guidelines for a new regulatory framework in this sector. The other is the Popular Democratic Media Initiative bill, which presents the priorities set by the movement for the regulation of radio broadcasting in the country in the form of a legal text.
The documents point to the importance of strengthening public and community broadcasting entities, the limitations of concentration of media ownership, the universalization of broadband, and the promotion of the participation of civil society in the formulation of communications public policy. They are to a great extent a summary of the discussions conducted by Brazilian social movements over the past 30 years and have been inspired by similar initiatives that have emerged in other Latin American countries over the past few years.
*Bruno Marinoni is a member of Colectivo Intervozes and holds a doctorate in Sociology from Universidad Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE).