Brazil’s media monopolies live on

. Nov 01, 2017
Reporters without borders Brazil’s media monopolies live on Illustration: RSF
Reporters without borders Brazil’s media monopolies live on

Illustration: RSF

Last year, Brazil tumbled 46 places in the World Press Freedom Index. We fell from 58th place in 2010 all the way down to 104th in 2016. The barometer, which is used to monitor threats to journalists that range from lawsuits to lethal violence, indicated that journalists in Brazil are facing bigger challenges than they had been in years.

Yet tied up in problems of journalist safety is another question concerning media governance, and how private interests tackle topics of public interest. Brazil’s media oligopoly is notorious: only five conglomerates control over half of the country’s 50 main media outlets. No group, however, is as powerful as Globo. Its nightly news program, Jornal Nacional, draws more viewers every night than annual broadcastings of the Academy Awards.

Reporters Without Borders (known by the acronym RSF for its French name) released its analysis of Brazil’s media landscape. The Media Ownership Monitoring report looked at the 26 biggest Brazilian media groups, and their conclusions weren’t surprising. In 1987, Globo alone captured approximately 70 percent of television audiences across Brazil; RSF says that while 70 percent is represented by four groups, Globo still retains half.

</p> <p>Globo, the world’s 19th biggest conglomerate group, remains the country’s most powerful broadcaster. In the early 1990s, the British documentary <em>Brazil: Beyond Citizen Kane</em> revealed the extent of TV Globo’s monopoly. The film was banned in Brazil because of a legal battle between Globo and filmmaker Simon Hartog over the rights to use Globo footage in the documentary.</p> <p>As Al-Jazeera’s media analysis broadcast ‘The Listening Post’ noted in its <a href="">recent Brazil-focused episode</a>, “plurality in media ownership here has failed to deliver a plurality of views”. The RSF report also points out that the “Brazilian mass-audience media is controlled, directed, and edited, in its majority, by an economic elite formed by white men.”</p> <p>According to RSF, Brazil’s most powerful groups <a href="">lack transparency</a> and carefully cover their owners’ private interests. Even though broadcasting groups benefit from public concessions, no legal or constitutional mechanisms require them to publicize their information.</p> <p><img loading="lazy" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-990" src="’s-media-monopolies-live-on.png" alt="reporters without borders Brazil’s media monopolies live on" width="1012" height="419" srcset="’s-media-monopolies-live-on.png 1012w,’s-media-monopolies-live-on-300x124.png 300w,’s-media-monopolies-live-on-768x318.png 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1012px) 100vw, 1012px" /></p> <h3>Media moguls and their other businesses</h3> <p>At least 21 of the groups surveyed by RSF had investments in other significant economic areas, from financial services, real estate, and agribusiness, to education and healthcare. But the lack of transparency means that these conflicts of interest are rarely well-known among the public.</p> <p>Grupo NC is one group that demonstrates how just how broad stockholder interests can be. The pharmaceutical businessman Carlos Sanchez and investor in energy and metallurgy Lírio Parisotto, the group’s owners, propelled themselves onto the Forbes billionaires list when they formed the group in 2014. The duo counts EMS, Brace Farma, Legrand, Germed Pharma, Novamed and CPM among their assets, though these are by no means the only companies in which they hold serious sway. Grupo NC also bought Santa Catarina TV channels, plus several radio stations and newspapers belonging to Grupo RBS in 2016.</p> <p>Another example is Aloysio de Andrade Faria, the billionaire owner of a financial services sector conglomerate called Grupo Alfa. He also deals with influential education sector groups like Fundação Dom Bosco. Faria, too, has branched into media with Rede Transamérica de Rádio. While this is legal, RSF’s research demonstrates that the lack of transparency around potential conflicts of interest is problematic for media objectivity and freedom.</p> <p>Meanwhile, RSF’s report reiterates, the individuals at the helms of these groups garner even more power as their investments grow. “Many of these protagonists – millionaires and billionaires who own the media – invest their profits in this same kind of patrimony that generates even more profit through speculation,” the report concludes.</p> <h3>When private interests sway public matters</h3> <p>One of the roles of the free press is to hold power accountable. With that in mind, Brazil’s Constitution explicitly forbids politicians to own media outlets while holding public office. However, the law has left many loopholes – which politicians gladly take advantage of. In Congress, 32 federal representatives and 8 senators of the current legislature own broadcasting groups.</p> <p>Many politicians, like Senate President Eunício Oliveira, prefer to use family members as fronts to avoid legal challenges. Oliveira’s radio, Rádio Tempo FM of Juazeiro do Norte, a municipality in his home state of Ceará, is <a href="">formally controlled by his wife</a>, Mônica, his brother, Edilson, and a member of his party. Conflict of interests? Absolutely not, they claim.</p> <p>Over several administrations, the Brazilian government has out handed thousands of concessions in exchange for political support. During the 1987-1988 elaboration of the Constitution, then-Minister of Communications Antônio Carlos Magalhães (himself a media owner) distributed 1,028 licenses over his tenure (1985-1989) – one-quarter of them only in the month prior to the vote on the final text of the Constitution. The aim was to preserve the interests of the group in power, which included – but was not limited to – extending the presidential term from 4 to 5 years.</p> <p>A similar incident occurred during Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s era. According to Octavio Pieranti, a researcher at the University of Brasília, 87 politicians were granted control over 268 media concessions in exchange for support of an amendment allowing the president to run for re-election.</p> <p>But politicians control media groups in another powerful way: advertising. The federal government is among the country’s biggest advertiser. And that has become a powerful political tool to nurture a “peaceful” relationship between administrations and some less financially sustainable outlets. Under former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, that strategy was pretty obvious. During his administration, the federal government went from <a href="">placing ads in 499 outlets to 5,297</a>. Many of those outlets were local radio and TV stations, which came to see the government as their main source of revenue. In exchange, they provided docile coverage of political affairs.

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Ciara Long

Based in Rio de Janeiro, Ciara focuses on covering human rights, culture, and politics.

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