By John Fitzpatrick
May 17, 2007

On December 2 this year Brazilians should be able to switch on their TV sets and find a new channel, one that is refreshingly free of the endless smut, soap operas, game shows, football chats, evangelical rallies and advertising which mark the current offerings by the main commercial channels. This should be good news for discerning viewers, one of whom is apparently President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. In fact, Lula is so fed up the low quality of Brazilian television that he has decided to set up a new one. This is the downside of what should be good news. The dangers are that the government will manipulate the content of the new channel, ensure that only propaganda appears and waste taxpayers money. So far the government has not made a strong case that such a channel is really needed and, by setting such a close deadline, it has not given itself enough time to think out exactly how the station will work or be funded. The latter point is particularly important since the project will cost an estimated R$300 million – around US$150 million.

This lack of planning was obvious from remarks made by the communication secretary, Franklin Martins, at an informal meeting with foreign correspondents held in São Paulo on May 14. Martins was short on details and long on generalities. Apart from saying that a bill would be sent to Congress or, failing that, a presidential decree would be signed, he was vague about the legal standing of the new station. He said the funding would come from government funds earmarked for culture and from company sponsorship. There would be no advertising per se, no soap operas and the content would be general. To ensure that it was not a government mouthpiece, a minimum of 30 hours a week of independent content, including journalism, would be shown.

He gave no idea of the structure at the meeting although on other occasions he has said that the new channel would be based on the existing Radiobras network and the public TV educational networks in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Maranhão. The fact that only two states will be involved shows how difficult it will be to create a truly national TV network – a public network, that is, since the commercial TV Globo network covers virtually the whole of Brazilian territory. For good or bad, TV Globo has imposed a standard and brainwashed succeeding generations into accepting its idea of what television should be. As well as imposing soap operas, sport and low-brow entertainment on viewers, it has also used its power for political purposes. Lula knows this well since TV Globo went out of its way to sabotage his electoral campaign against Fernando Collor.

However, there is one other state – São Paulo – with a widely admired public TV network. TV Cultura was founded in 1967 by the state government and is run by an independent foundation. It receives funding from the state government and corporate sponsorship but has no advertising. It has six TV studios, two radio stations and regional units. It broadcasts a wide range of programs on culture, education, entertainment and journalism and shows documentaries. It is certainly better than the commercial channels although, in my opinion, not as good as it thinks it is but self-praise is a characteristic shared by the entire Brazilian media. However, instead of trying to entice TV Cultura on board or benefit from its experience and reputation, Martins seemed indifferent to whether it would join” the new network. Perhaps he was just being realistic since TV Cultura is unlikely to want to come under the federal government’s control. Nevertheless, efforts could at least be made to make TV Cultura an adviser or set up some kind of joint venture.

Foreign Experience
The government also appears to have made no effort to see how publicly-funded TV stations operate in other countries. Franklin made a reference to the BBC in passing but merely to show that, even with state funding, it has still broadcast material which the government did not like. This lack of interest in other countries experience is particularly odd as both Martins and the communications minister, Helio Costa, are former journalists, with broadcasting experience, who have worked abroad. Martins was a newspaper correspondent in London in the early 90s and spent eight years with TV Globo back in Brazil. Costa has a background in radio journalism and even worked for the Voice of America in Washington. He also claims to have been a war correspondent in El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Middle East.

Costa says he wants a “public” and not a “state-run” channel. “State TV is what Chavez has (in Venezuela), state TV is what they have in Cuba. State TV is what they had in Poland and the former Soviet Union. I have been to all these places to find out the difference between state and public TV,” he told the Folha Online news agency earlier this year. If Costa thought this half-baked remark would remove concern then he was wrong. Venezuela and Cuba are a lot closer to Brazil than the former Soviet Union. Brazilians have been following events in Venezuela where Hugo Chavez has refused to renew the license of the RCTV station which opposes his government.

No-one here expects Lula to try and shut down TV Globo but equally no-one expects the new station to allow the kind of anti-government material RCTV presents in Venezuela to appear on it either. In fact, we do not even know what to expect because, in the absence of a legal foundation, nothing has been done to set up studios or hire management and staff. Presumably, the Radiobras and TV stations in Rio de Janeiro and Maranhão will be integrated and their resources used. However, this looks like a very shaky platform for such a grand venture. As for the “independent” content, one can look forward to the equivalent of the record-breaking, tractor-production and pig iron features which marked old-fashioned Communist propaganda or politically correct programs on topics which will send viewers straight back to the trivia and trite supplied by TV Globo and Silvio Santos.

Supporters of the new station respond by saying that commercial stations have their own political and business agenda and are selective about what they present. This is true and Lula and his leftist supporters may be right to claim that the commercial media – print and broadcast – has been against them. However, this has not prevented Lula being elected president twice and shows that, at the end of the day, people will make up their own minds who to believe when voting. Lula should stick to running the country, not setting up TV Lula.

John Fitzpatrick 2007

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicaes. This article originally appeared on his site http://www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at jf@celt.com.br.

Previous articles by John Fitzpatrick on www.gringoes.com:

Navel Gazing in Brasilia – Largesse in São Paulo
Brazil’s Politicians Share the Spoils
Cida – A Brazilian Entrepreneur
Ten Top Brazilian Songs to Download on Your iPod
Lula Lets Brazilians Down by Failing to Exercise His Authority
Brazil: Laid Back Lula Finally Gets His Team (Almost) Together
The George W. Bush PR Show Comes to Brazil
Briefing Bush on Brazil the CIA Way
US Authorities Tackle Brazil’s White Collar Criminals
Brazil’s Opposition Parties Try to End Disarray
Lula Faces Arm-Wrestling Contest with New Congress
Brazil Waits for Lula to Return from Holiday
Around Brazil: Santana de Parnaiba
Brazilians Start to Stand Up for Their Rights
Darfur – Brazil’s African Side Show
Economics and Politics in Brazil – a Tangled Web
Brazil’s Strange Idea of Democracy
Brazil: John Pizzarelli – the Boy from Ipanema
Brazil’s Stock Market: the Path to Riches or Rags?
Brazil: Lula Unlikely to Change Course after His Massive Victory
Brazil: Privatization – Lula and Alckmin Defend the Indefensible
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 2
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin Hits Lula but Lands No Killer Blow
Brazil: Lula Pays the Penalty for Complacency
Brazil: Does Lula Deserve to Win?
Brazil: Cardoso Writes a Poison Pen Letter
Monte Verde – Brazil’s Green Mountain
Brazil’s Gross Disappointing Product
Brazil’s Election – Alckmin Hands Lula Victory on a Plate
Lula Hits Back at Congress
Brazil’s Presidential Election May Not be a Walkover for Lula
Pity the Brazilian Voter
Brazil’s Fainthearts Let the Nation Down
Now is the Winter of Brazil’s Discontent
World Cup brings Out the Best and Worst in Brazil
Brazil’s Big Spender
Brazil: The Dogs of War are Unleashed in São Paulo
Brazil: Self-Righteous Indignation Marks Bolivian Nationalization
Brazil: Lula Still Vulnerable
Brazil: The PSDB Takes the Hard Road
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 3
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 2
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin the Hare Takes on Serra the Tortoise
Patronizing Brazilians the Politically Correct Way
Brazil: Election Gives Voters Chance to Clean Up Congress
Brazil: João Pessoa – a Victim of its Own Success
No Consistency in Brazil’s Foreign Policy
Brazil: Sitting in the Shadow of Sarney and Magalhes
Brazil: Gentrification Creeps Up On São Paulo
Dirt Flies as Brazilian Parties Aim for Presidency
Brazilians Vote for Guns and Death Not Peace and Love
Brazil’s Gun Lobby Launches Hysterical Campaign Against Arms Ban
Jews and Arabs Find Success in Brazil
Brazil’s Politicians Start Looking Ahead to Next Year
Brazil: Lula Down but Certainly Not Out
Brazil’s Congress Struggles to Cope with Ongoing Crisis
Brazil: Scandal Threatens Presidential Mandate System
Brazil: If Lula is to Survive He Needs to Change His Tactics
Brazil: Many Parties – Few Ideas
Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Helping the Helpless in Brazil
Pinheiros – São Paulo’s Best District
Growing Old (Dis)gracefully in Brazil
Canudos, Still With Us 100 Years Later
The Rise of the Brazilian Empire
Brazil and Portugal – The Samba and the Fado
Brazil – Just A State Of Mind
Brazil: For Lula, is Ignorance Bliss?
Brazil: Pay Day – or Pay Dirt?

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