Public radio and television services



Considerations about the brief period of public communication in brazil: history, coups and lessons

“Despite being destroyed, public communication, when it is implemented again in Brazil, will not return to square one. The successes and mistakes made during nine years should serve as a basis for its reconstruction. Overcoming editorial technological deficiencies is a priority task”

In 2018, a plebiscite in Switzerland rejected the proposal to abolish fees paid by the population to maintain public radio and TV broadcasters. A little over 70% of voters voted to maintain the annual fee, a resource that seeks to guarantee the independence of these services, both from commercial advertising and from public funds managed by the government.

Long before the Swiss, still in the 1980s, the United Kingdom went through a similar process. The neoliberal fury imposed on the country by Margareth Thatcher's government threatened the survival of the BBC as a public broadcaster, maintained by the public and free from commercial or government interests.

The prime minister defended the end of the fee paid by listeners and viewers and its replacement by advertising. A commission formed in Parliament analyzed the proposal and concluded that it was rejected, taking into account, in large part, the public's manifestations in defense of the original financing model. At the basis of this support was the BBC's roots in the daily life of the British people, aware that the quality of the service provided was the result of its political and editorial independence. The intransigent Margaret Thatcher, who had managed to bend even the powerful miners' union, was forced to bow to the public support won by the BBC.

These are just two examples of recognition of the importance of public radio and television services for the diversity of the circulation of facts and ideas in society. Essential for democratic life. Brazil lacks that. Here, radio and TV are practically monopolized by commercial, political and, more recently, religious interests, the latter being contaminated by the other two.

Although having emerged in Brazil as a non-commercial venture, the radio that completes a century of existence in our country next year, quickly succumbed to business interests. Edgard Roquette-Pinto, Henrique Morize and other members of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, who founded the pioneer Rádio Sociedade do Rio de Janeiro in 1923, created a society of listeners, active participants in the life of the station. Just like the public broadcasters that were beginning to appear in other countries.

But here, the dream was short-lived. In less than a decade, radio in the form of a partnership succumbed to competition from commercial radio stations setting up across the country, driven by increasingly large advertising budgets. To the point that the founders of the pioneer station gave up the venture, handing it over to the government, with the condition that it would continue operating without advertising. This is how MEC radio works until today, the successor of Rádio Sociedade do Rio de Janeiro, running the risk of not reaching 100 years, if the threats of closure announced by the current government are confirmed.

Television has a much less virtuous start in our country. On the contrary, it appears marked by the Brazilian way, synonymous with cleverness that is almost always fraudulent. When it was implemented in Brazil, in 1950, TV did not follow the normal competition rites, expected for the granting of a public good, such as the electromagnetic waves through which radio and television signals travel. A finite and scarce asset, granted by the State on behalf of society.

Under the false claim that TV was just a technological extension of radio, businessmen who already controlled the pioneering vehicle took over the channels intended for television, commercially monopolizing this public space. Thus, the idea was created that radio and TV services should be private undertakings, disregarding the possibility of using them in the form of essentially public communication. Unlike other countries, whose governments boosted public communication, making it an institutional reference, kept without competition for a long time.

This distinction between the two forms of broadcasting implementation is important for two reasons. First, by offering society the idea that it is a public service, capable of functioning only with the support of the public itself, without any other type of interference. Thus, a culture of public communication was formed, with the strength to honor it and, when necessary, defend it.

The second reason stems from the first. Support for public communication is based on the quality of services offered. It must be remembered that the precursors of this work have their origins, or at least are strongly influenced, by the achievements of the time, in science, education, arts and culture in general, bringing them to the new communication vehicles. With this, they establish quality standards recognized and internalized by the public.

In the Brazilian case, television in its beginnings, although supported by advertising, had some relationship with the ideals of radio precursors. In dramaturgy, in musicals, in children's programs, in practically all programming. With the popularization of access to TV receivers, this concern with quality was replaced by the struggle for audience, imposed by the market. With lax regulation and, even so, little enforcement, Brazilian commercial television sank over time in the swamp of mediocrity, with the usual exceptions.

One of the antidotes to this situation should have been the formation of a national public television network, capable of competing with commercial networks, through bold programming, instigating knowledge, critical spirit, access to what the most sophisticated spirit has. human can conceive. Presented with the best of television technique, attractive in rhythm, sounds and images.

Some attempts have failed in this way. One of the most remembered was that of President Getúlio Vargas who, in his second term, in the 1950s, suggested the possibility of granting a TV channel to the National Radio of Rio de Janeiro, controlled by the federal government and audience leader. The president's death postponed this plan, later taken up by Juscelino Kubitschek. The reaction from the commercial media was fierce. Assis Chateaubriand, powerful owner of the Associated Newspapers and Broadcasters, a media conglomerate currently similar to the group Globe, threatened to overthrow the president if the grant materialized. Faced with these pressures, channel 4, in Rio de Janeiro, which would be destined by Juscelino Kubitschek to public television ended up in the hands of the Globe, where it remains today.

Non-commercial stations began to appear in the 1960s, under the title of "educational", controlled, almost all, by state governments. Thus, they did not have the basic requirement of public communication, represented by political independence. Not even the Padre Anchieta Foundation, which maintains Radio and TV Culture of São Paulo, although constituted in the form of a foundation governed by private law, had in practice that independence.

Without regular funding, guaranteed by law, the foundation lives to this day under the moods of the shift government. Almost all conditioning resources to submission to their political interests. Faced with this reality, present in practically the entire history of the Padre Anchieta Foundation, the democratic institutional framework that governs its operation was of little use.

For this reason, the institution's Board of Trustees is the highest governing body, responsible for formulating its general guidelines, free from any external interference. There are 47 members, part elected by the Council itself, alongside leaders of Universities, research institutions, secretaries of the state government, among others. An apparent diversity that disappears when one looks at the political relationships of most of its participants, components of a political hegemony consolidated in the State, over more than two decades.

On the other hand, public communication, at the national level, practically did not advance, after the frustrated attempts of Getúlio Vargas and Juscelino Kubitschek. It was only in 2007, during the second government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, that the first public radio and television network appeared in Brazil, formed by the EBC, the Brazil Communication Company, and constituted by the existing federal stations.

Its institutional model also adopted a public character, with two basic characteristics: a Board of Directors as the highest body of the institution, with hegemony of representatives of civil society entities, and the presidency of the Executive Board appointed by the President of the Republic, but with a mandate not coincident with that of the head of government and with stability in the position, whose removal could only be carried out in advance, in special circumstances, by the Council itself.

Not by chance, these two key points of the institutional constitution of the EBC were eliminated by one of the first provisional measures sent to Congress by the government that took power after the 2016 coup.

For nine years it was possible to test in Brazil a form of public communication, still unprecedented here, in national terms. Successes and mistakes marked this process, but just expanding the debate around the theme was already a great advance. For the first time, it became possible to evaluate in practice the possibility of a public communication project offered to the whole country, in addition to showing it as a real alternative to the hitherto hegemonic commercial model.

The successes, in addition to the proposed institutional model, could be seen at certain times, in the programs offered. The Brazilian artistic and cultural diversity, the presence of important characters for the national political debate, excluded from commercial broadcasters, and the critique of communication itself, were some of the novelties offered by these programs, and until then unpublished in Brazilian television.

In journalism the process was more arduous. The historical influence of the commercial model, with editorial lines marked by the interests of the dominant sectors in society, also contaminated a large part of the journalism offered. In the brief moments in which this barrier was broken, with the opening of spaces for a greater range of information offered to the public, the response was largely positive, not only through the audience ratings, but also through the manifestations received.

What was missing, however, was the most important thing: the possibility of wide and easy access to this programming by the whole of society. The sounds and images offered by the EBC vehicles were not universalized. In the case of TV Brasil, for example, the national network was based on agreements with regional broadcasters controlled by state governments, thus becoming hostage to political interests fragmented across the country. In addition to the low investment in the transmission of signals from the generating stations themselves, creating a large area of ​​shadow, even in cities such as Brasília, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Limitations that prevented the EBC stations from taking root in society, necessary to sustain and defend them. The blow that ended this first experience of national electronic public communication went practically unnoticed by society. With the honorable exception of part of the EBC employees and militants of the public communication defense movements, practically no other voice was raised to oppose this attack that affronted the Federal Constitution itself. It is there, in its Article 223, that the concessions of broadcasting services must observe the principle of “complementarity of systems, private, public and state”. The 2016 coup ended the public system.

The threats of the coup leaders and their successors to end the EBC stations did not materialize when they saw the possibility of turning them into instruments of political propaganda. This began to be done on a large scale, as shown by the monitoring of programs carried out by the Citizen Ombudsman of the EBC, through reports produced and published periodically.

Despite being destroyed, public communication, when it is implemented again in Brazil, will not return to square one. The successes and mistakes of those nine years should serve as a basis for its reconstruction. Overcoming the technological and editorial shortcomings already mentioned is a priority task.[1] But it will only be successful if it manages to make society consider it as a cultural heritage of the entire nation.

*Laurindo Lalo Leal Filho, sociologist and journalist, he is a retired professor at the USP School of Communications and Arts and a member of the Deliberative Council of the Brazilian Press Association (ABI).

Originally published in ComCiência, Electronic Journal of Science Journalism.



[1] Concrete proposals in this regard are detailed in LEAL FILHO, Laurindo Lalo (2018) “Public Communication”. In GONÇALVES, Mirian (org.), Coup Encyclopedia – The Role of the Media. Bauru, SP: canal6editora.


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