Brazil’s Media: US to the Rescue

     Brazil's Media: 
US to the Rescue

    Compare today’s big
    Brazilian magazine or newspaper to its counterpart
    edition of a decade ago. Editorial space shrank, information
    density diminished, and text quality dipped. A generation of
    40-years old has been replaced by young talents deprived of any
    commitment to journalism and accepting indecent salaries.
    by: Alberto
    Dines

    The news was good—the sale of 13.8 percent of Grupo Abril’s holding company
    to Capital International Inc., of CapitalGroup, the third largest fund manager
    in the US.

    For the following reasons:

    * Until now, only two
    were the proposed solutions to the crisis in the Brazilian media, and both
    were dismal: Pró-Mídia (Pro-Media), a line of special credit
    from BNDES (National Bank for Development), which eventually will in
    some form subject borrowers to federal government interests; and the green
    light to predators, which already has placed part of our daily and weekly
    press under the all-is-fair and blackmail regime.

    * The sale of shares of
    one of Latin-America’s media giants is the first outcome of the amendment
    to Article 222 of the Constitution. Enacted two years ago, it aimed at capitalizing
    national media organizations and, most of all, transforming archaic family
    groups into transparent public companies.

    * Upon announcing the
    sale to Capital Group, Roberto Civita, Chairman of the Board of Abril, stated
    that the transaction cleared the way for the company to go public in the future.

    * Such IPO will mark the
    beginning of a process of institutional facelift within the Brazilian media
    industry, which is still in the Stone Age when compared to other business
    segments, particularly their big advertisers.

    * Equally auspicious is
    the fact that Abril’s new partner is a fund manager, not a multinational media
    or financial conglomerate. Pension or investment fund companies are viewed
    as "neutrals" in political terms, concerned exclusively in generating
    profits for investors. They are not interested in other dividends.

    When other Brazilian funds,
    inspired by Capital Group, decide to invest their resources in sound media
    projects, feeding off the government’s breast will fizzle out, and partnerships—that
    have tarnished the image of the nation’s press—between media and the
    state (or political groups) will crumble.

    Not only in regional press,
    but also in the Rio-São Paulo market, many are the media channels artificially
    sustained, whose only purpose is to serve their owners’ political and electoral
    interests.

    Talent Incubator

    The concerning aspect
    over Abril’s pioneering operation is the premise upon which media employers
    have established themselves: productivity gain can only be attained by quality
    loss.

    What has been denoted
    as a "slim down process" in editorial rooms, set in motion almost
    10 years ago, has led to the most formidable qualitative collapse in the history
    of national journalism.

    Compare today’s big magazine
    or newspaper to its counterpart edition of a decade ago. Title and graphics
    may be the same, the company is the same, stockholders and executives as well,
    however, topics have been trivialized, little bits and items are valued more
    highly, editorial space shrank, information density diminished, and text quality
    dipped.

    Most importantly, a generation
    of 40-years old with 20 years of experience has been replaced by young talents,
    hired for their dual aptitude of bowing to demands of executives and media
    professionals deprived of any commitment to journalism and accepting salaries
    that their predecessors would have considered indecent.

    Until very recently, the
    Brazilian press served as a breeding ground and incubator of talents to the
    world of academics, business, politics, and even judicial (the current Supreme
    Court Chief Justice, Edson Vidigal, had a career in important editorial rooms).

    The press was one of the
    thinking elites’ engines, not only for the value of its output, but also for
    the quality of human resources. Those who survived remain as top notch players;
    however, the renovation turned things inside out.

    Forgotten Printed Press

    Today, journalism, driven
    by imposed "gains in productivity," appears destined to specializing
    in the making of future event promoters, communications advisors, etc. etc.,
    needed professionals indeed, but non-essential to the process of cultural
    enrichment of a developed society.

    The auspicious announcement
    by Grupo Abril, on July 7, practically coincides with the unveiling of a study
    by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), on June 29, which forecasts overall growth
    at 6.3 percent for the media and entertainment sectors in the next four years.

    One major newspaper, O
    Globo, was first to report (6/30/04, page 30), and another big daily,
    A Folha de S. Paulo, cut its own version days later on the cover of
    its arts, entertainment & around-town section (7/11/04).

    For Latin America, PwC
    indicates a growth higher than average (6.5 percent), mostly in the cable
    TV segment, where the rate is expected at 9.2 percent.

    What captures the attention
    of such seemingly optimistic prognosis is the focus: for PwC, media stands
    for electronic-media or entertainment-media (TV, movies, DVD, videogames).
    References to the internet are linked to games.

    There’s no mentioning
    printed press. As far as books, A Folha came out with very unenthusiastic
    figures: a miserly 0.1 percent overall growth in 2004, and until 2008, an
    estimated 2.8 percent.

    Profits and Intelligence

    In truth, the uplifting
    figures conceal a discouraging reality: journalism and the generation of information
    are irrelevant, or secondary at best. The so-called "cultural industry"
    leans toward an image-based industry, where reading plays an insignificant
    role.

    Which throws us back to
    the erosion in quality of the nation’s printed press: while in the US, Europe,
    and Japan the expansion of the entertainment media is able to maintain balance
    by adhering to sources off the printed press, what is going to happen in Brazil,
    whose newspapers and magazines—with few exceptions—have opted for
    a process of quality dilapidation?

    How do we counterbalance
    a culture of videogames when "gains in productivity" in editorial
    rooms inflict so much loss in substance on the assembly lines?

    In which form will a large
    national medium be able to offer a chunk of its capital to pension funds if
    executives from such funds turn to foreign magazines and newspapers as their
    information channel?

    Competitive organizations
    can provide competent journalism just as well, and gains in productivity can
    take place without squandering intelligence.


    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. He also writes a column on cultural issues for the Rio
    daily Jornal do Brasil. You can reach him by email at obsimp@ig.com.br.

    This article was
    originally published in Observatório da Imprensa —
    www.observatoriodaimprensa.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 Boca Raton, Florida. His email: eaqus@adelphia.net.

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