It turns and moves ex-president Lula talks about media regulation and what we can see is an immediate repercussion, generally negative or distorted, of this debate. The one who generally reflects this in a hegemonic way is the commercial press, which is directly involved in the debate and has historically contributed to its becoming shallow and biased.
The reality is that ex-president Lula’s speeches on the subject are not always opportune – they often come close to electoral periods – and this makes it difficult to deepen the debate, which, in turn, is the object of very serious studies in the field of policies of communication and culture.
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There is a vast international and national literature on the subject of media regulation, as well as a vast experience of countries, normally framed as democratic, with the regulation of their media. But this combo of lack of opportunity in ex-president Lula’s statements with the opportunism of the media has given us work, in the field of communication policies, who always need to return to the structural place of regulating the media for democracy, stepping on in some corns and put fingers in some wounds.
The first point that is important to revisit, so that we do not lose the dimension of the problem we need to face, is that: in 14 years of PT government, all the proposals for a general law to regulate the media, built even with participation social (as in the case of National Conference on Communication held in 2009) or inspired by the proposals resulting from the conference, were solemnly shelved.
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It is extremely important for this debate to be resumed and receive the treatment it deserves (better late than never), but the elements for recognizing its importance were already given since the first government of the PT, in the early 2000s. In fact, this accumulation is even older than that, the Workers’ Party itself played a fundamental role in the articulation of movements, such as the National Forum for the Democratization of Communication (FNDC), which historically formulated the need for regulation of the media. This debate was fundamental for the elaboration of what is today one of the main achievements in the scope of communication policies in Brazil, which is Chapter V of Title VIII of the Federal Constitution.
Media regulation in Brazil
Yes, there is media regulation in Brazil and this is as old as the telegraph, even before the Brasil República. In imperial Brazil there were Decrees that regulated communications and already in the 1930s we had the first and main regulations on broadcasting (radio and television). And in the 1960s, the Brazilian Telecommunications Code, which despite being anachronistic is still in force today, and over the decades, dozens of laws were made and regulated communication in a disorderly way. We had the Cable Law, the Community Radios Law, the creation of the Social Communication Council, the law that regulates the participation of foreign capital in journalistic and broadcasting companies, the law that creates the Empresa Brasil de Comunicação and institutes the principles and objectives public broadcasting services.
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There are even laws regulating content, as in the case of the law that defines different punishment for crimes resulting from racial or color prejudice transmitted in the media, or the most recent screen law that sets quotas for national audiovisual productions, the regulation of advertising, including the ban on advertising for children (which substantially changed television programming in Brazil).
This, however, does not place us on the list of nations that have democratic regulation of the media, because a satisfactory regulation of the media requires much more than disconnected laws (many of them in the service of private interests). A general law on electronic and mass communications presupposes that, at a minimum, the articles of the Federal Constitution are regulated and that more recent technologies, such as the Internet, are also subject to regulation.
And why then is this debate always embarrassed by the media?
The answer to this question is an example of the theme itself. Without a public sphere regulated with democratic principles, only a few have access to the mass media and, therefore, the right to present their arguments.
The lack of regulation generates and perpetuates the concentration of the means of communication and guarantees the maintenance of monologues where only businessmen can be heard widely. And no, the internet has not changed this context and in recent years this has become even more serious, returning power to the hands of multinational monopolies (but that is a topic for another article). As dealers and media owners have no interest in this debate, it is solemnly ignored or just raise the ball to frame their speeches by taxing regulation as censorship.
In fact, when civil society and academia cry out for a reform, an update in the regulation of the media in Brazil, this involves moving the interests of the main media outlets because it proposes, for example, to discuss the criteria of media monopolies and oligopolies of communication provided for in § 5 of Article 220 of the CF, which provides that “The media may not, directly or indirectly, be the object of a monopoly or oligopoly”. Until today there is no law that determines what is monopoly and oligopoly in the logic of communications.
Media regulation can and should be done in different layers and all of them are important. It is not possible to choose whether we are going to carry out economic or content regulation. Both forms of regulation are important and fundamental for the media to function in an ethical and democratic way.
We need to talk about monopolies and oligopolies as much as we have to talk about ratings, which protect children from inappropriate or abusive content. We have to resolve the issue of conflict of interest between legislators who are concessionaires of radio and/or television stations or ownership of media vehicles in general, but we also have to face the violent and often racist and misogynistic form that the programs, known as police officers, challenge their audience.
The violation of human rights cannot and should not be accepted in any communication vehicle and this can also be interpreted based on Article 221 of the Constitution and various treaties that Brazil is a signatory to.
And then, this regulation is configured as censorship? I categorically answer no. And I could use the examples of England, France, Germany, Norway, Japan or the European Union to justify that this is actually a precondition for a plural and democratic society.
But whoever embargoes this debate has never been and is not concerned with censorship, but with market reserve, with profit and with its power to guide society with the hegemonic vision of the values of a ruling class. Censorship exists in the daily lives of thousands of newsrooms in Brazil because, in most cases, the media are in the hands of politicians and/or hostages of advertisers. This seems not to be a concern for those who rate censorship regulation. This does not seem to generate revolt and repulsion from the population.
A regulation with transparent criteria and widely debated by society is not to be confused with censorship because it is a previous agreement and that responds to socially validated principles, as in any other field, not only of the economic order, but also of the social order.
It is also worth emphasizing that the regulation debate involves the guarantee of a public media operator, as in the case of the vast majority of countries mentioned above. It makes no sense to regulate the media and not tackle the issue of commercial media monopoly, for example. It makes no sense not to have a regulation that seeks to strengthen democracy by expanding the diversity of voices and content, that does not involve a diversification of the broadcasters’ business models and that can – in cases where there is an oligopoly of commercial media – ensure coexistence of public media (in all their diversity).
Article 223 of the CF speaks of complementarity between public, private and state broadcasting services and to date there is no complete regulation of this article either. Having only been part of it regulated by Law 11,652 of 2008 that created the EBC, but which today is also undergoing a dismantling process, supported by commercial media vehicles.
If the country manages to get out of the superficiality of the debate on media regulation, it will understand that the principles of plurality and diversity must cut across all layers of regulation, be it economic or content. Be it telecommunications, broadcasting or internet.
Debate needs to be deepened
We are not in a historical position to resume this debate in the depth it needs. A country that is much closer to Taliban medievalism than to democracy, it does not seem to me to be in the best time to face “progressive” agendas. Unfortunately, this debate will not be held honestly in the press, and courage and strategic understanding of the agenda will be needed to face the unpopularity that the measure will initially entail.
But, as with quota policies, I see no other way than to face all authoritarianism, feudalism, patrimonialism and any other qualification that expresses the backward thinking of the ruling classes in Brazil to allow for solidly building the bases for democracy in the country.
A democracy cannot be built without facing the anachronistic past and my suggestion to President Lula and his entire team is to be very careful about where and how to talk about media regulation because this is a debate that goes far beyond the former president’s dissatisfactions with the way the press treats him.
*Mariana Martins is a journalist and PhD in Communication (UNB).
**This is an opinion piece. The author’s vision does not necessarily express the editorial line of the Brazil in fact.
Source: Federal District BdF
Edition: Flávia Quirino