Getting Ready for Cuban Democracy in Brazil

    Poster of Brazilian motion picture FeminicesThe Constitution of Brazil seems to fully protect freedom of expression for intellectual, artistic, scientific, and media activities. In its Article 220, the basic law of this nation explicitly says that manifestations of thought, expression, and information must not be subjected to governmental restrictions for political, ideological, and artistic reasons.

    Regardless of what this Constitution says, the Workers’ Party (PT) government has decided to introduce a highly controversial bill on audiovisual affairs.

    If approved, this bill creates a National Agency of Movies and Audiovisual Affairs, the Ancinav, with full powers to exercise control over radio and television stations, communication services with audiovisual content (including telephony and the Internet), as well as the production, distribution, and the showing of movies (including television films and news reports).

    The President of the Republic, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, would be free to nominate board members of such powerful agency, for a four-year term.

    The Ancinav would be endowed with powers to investigate and restructure the strategic plans of cinematographic and audiovisual companies. The bill explicitly calls for the “planning, regulation, administration, and monitoring of cinematographic and audiovisual companies”, in their “production, programming, distribution, exhibition, and divulgation”.

    It states that the Ancinav would preserve the ‘confidentiality’ of technical, operational, and even financial records requested from these companies, which also implies that this federal agency could force them to provide strategic and/or financial information.

    The Ancinav would be financed by resources obtained from new taxes over advertisement, the rent and/or purchase of VCRs and/or DVDs, and a 10% increase in the price of movie tickets. This increase would obviously transform cinema into an even more elitist entertainment in this country.

    Also, it would make just impossible for the majority of theatres to exhibit movies with small public demand, such as those produced by specialised film companies.(1) In this sense, the bill violates Article 215 of the Brazilian Constitution, which declares that the state needs to support the maximum diffusion of cultural expressions.

    In explaining why the National Congress should approve this sort of bill, the Lula administration suggests that the Ancinav would support the national filmmaking industry to promote ‘civic re-education’ towards a ‘better sense’ of Brazil’s ‘national identity’.

    Since the idea is confessedly to control cultural expressions, including those with scientific and/or artistic value, a prestigious lawyer, Ives Gandra, has accused the PT government of willing to exercise its full control over artistic, cinematographic, and audiovisual activities, similarly to what happened in the past in places like the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.(2)

    In fact, the first attempts toward an unduly control over freedom of expression have already been carried out. Since President Lula took office, in 2003, state companies can only sponsor social and cultural projects in tune with the ideology of those who are in power.

    A state oil and gas distribution company, Petrobras, has informed that ‘social views’ of the current administration must be taken into consideration for social and cultural projects to be funded. Other state companies such as Eletrobrás and Furnas communicated the same conditions for the financing of social and cultural activities.

    In relation to the problem of the Ancinav, a prestigious member of the highly selected Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazilian Academy of Letters), history professor José Murillo de Carvalho, wrote an insightful piece on the subject in daily newspaper Jornal do Brasil. He suggests that this law proposal creating the Ancinav constitutes an attempt to establish one the worst forms of censorship a government has ever produced in the whole history of this country.(3)

    A leading daily newspaper, O Estado de S. Paulo, commented in an editorial that the bill of Ancinav is authoritarian, bureaucratising, statist, and, as a result, would result in a return to former instruments of censorship in Brazil.

    The editorial also suggests that calling the law proposal ‘only’ authoritarian is too bland and small, as it reveals that President Lula is certainly not joking when he says that countries like Cuba and Venezuela are ‘models of democracy’ to be imitated.(4)

    References

    (1) See: Revista Veja; Um Desastre de Lei. 13 October 2004, p.120.
    (2) Martins, Ives Gandra da Silva; O Retrocesso Democrático. Jornal do Brasil, 36 August 2004, p. A13.
    (3) Carvalho, José Murillo de; O Novo DIP. Jornal do Brasil, 29 December 2004, p.B2.
    (4) O Estado de S. Paulo, Debaixo do Parangolé da Ancinav. Editorial, 26 September 2004.

    Augusto Zimmermann is a Brazilian Law Professor and PhD candidate for Monash University – Faculty of Law, in Australia. The topic of his research is the (un)rule of law and legal culture in Brazil. He holds a LL.B and a LL.M (Hons.) from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, and is a former Law Professor at the NPPG (Research and Post-graduation Law Department) of Bennett Methodist University, and Estácio de Sá University, in Rio de Janeiro. His email address is: augustozimmermann@hotmail.com.

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