Study from RSF/Intervozes shows high concentration, low transparency and political and religious interference in Brazilian media

Brazil is in "red alert" due to the high concentration of audience, of property and geographical location, lack of transparency and economic, political and religious interference in the country's media. This is the main conclusion of the survey on media ownership in Brazil carried out by the Intervozes communication collective in partnership with the international organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF for its acronym in Spanish).

The result of the Brazilian chapter of the Media Ownership Monitor (MOM) project, already carried out in ten other countries, was launched on Oct. 31 at an event with representatives of Intervozes and RSF in São Paulo. The report, whose methodology was developed by RSF, is available in Portuguese and English on the project website.

MOM-Brazil has mapped 50 outlets or networks with the highest audiences in the country, distributed among four types of media: 11 TV networks (open and subscription), 12 radio networks, 17 print media (daily newspapers and weekly magazines weekly) and 10 online outlets (news portals).

According to André Pasti, coordinator of the research by Intervozes, after completing the mapping, the team contacted the companies asking for information about their owners. "None provided this information. Most did not even respond to the request, and those who did said they would not contribute,” he told the Knight Center. The team then resorted to data from state agencies such as the Ministry of Communications and Boards of Trade, balance sheets published by some of the companies and work already done by researchers studying communication in Brazil.

MOM-Brazil found that five families control 26 of the 50 media with the largest audience in the country and that cross-ownership of outlets of different media types is a central dimension of concentration in Brazilian media. Grupo Globo, of the Marinho family, holds nine of these outlets, reaching an audience larger in size than that of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th largest Brazilian groups, according to the study.

There was also a high geographic concentration of media in Brazil. In a country with continental dimensions, 73 percent of the media groups analyzed have their headquarters in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, the main urban center of South America, and 80 percent are concentrated in the southeastern and southern regions of the country.

According to the report, this "the centralization of so much media power in just one city has an impact on diversity and plurality of opinion. For the whole country, editorial decision making, the priorities of topics to cover, the composition of images and the view upon daily life in the media is predominantly influenced from around São Paulo and also Rio de Janeiro, thanks to the central role Grupo Globo plays in the national media.”

The survey also elaborated on the profiles of each outlet, controlling group and its directors, showing the economic, political and religious relations of each. MOM-Brasil found that a large number of media groups also have business in other sectors of the economy, especially in the education, health, financial market, real estate and agribusiness sectors.

Some conflicts of interests emerging from these relations are evident. Other would require a more profound research on the content produced in each media,” the report said.

Politics, religion and media control

The scenario of media concentration mapped by MOM-Brazil also stands out for the influence of politics and religion in the control of the country’s media.

In the case of politics, this is mainly observed in the regional and local affiliates of the major TV and radio networks. According to a previous Intervozes study, at least 32 federal deputies and eight Brazilian senators control communication outlets, which runs counter to the Federal Supreme Court's (STF) conclusion of 2014 that Article 54 of the Constitution prohibits legislators from being associated with legal entities that are holders of a broadcasting concession, permission or authorization.

The political and religious dimension of media control in Brazil is most evident in the case of the Macedo family, which controls Grupo Record and the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD). In addition to owning five media outlets among the 50 largest audiences in Brazil, the Macedo family also dominates the Brazilian Republican Party (PRB), according to the study.

Next to the IURD, there are three other Christian churches pointed out by MOM-Brazil as controllers of some of the 50 most-watched media in the country: the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Renascer em Cristo Church and the Catholic Church. The influence of these and other Christian institutions also occurs through the leasing of programming slots in non-religious outlets.

Olaf Steenfadt, MOM's global coordinator, said during the launch of the study in São Paulo that this relationship between media and church is typical of Brazil. "We have investigated 10 countries so far and in no way has the involvement of the Church and the media been as intense and profound as in Brazil," he said, according to Portal Imprensa. "What we see particularly in this Brazilian scenario is the triangulation between churches, politics and business, in which the Church also has influence in other areas such as education.”

High Risks to Media Pluralism

Compared to the other ten countries where MOM has already mapped media ownership in recent years – Colombia, Peru, Cambodia, Ghana, Ghana, Ukraine, Turkey, Serbia, Tunisia and Mongolia – Brazil is in the worst situation, with the highest risk to media pluralism, according to the study.

This ranking is based on ten indicators that assess media concentration in each sector as well as in cross-ownership, lack of transparency and independence or political control over media outlets, networks, funding and news agencies. Brazil has high or medium-to-high risk in eight of them, medium risk in one and for the latter, insufficient data were found for the MOM assessment.

According to Pasti, the results highlighted by these indicators "reaffirm the fact that there is a high concentration of media in Brazil, which constitutes a threat to democracy and to the plurality of voices necessary for democracy in Brazilian society."

"It is impossible to have democracy without plurality of voices. The research starts from this understanding and the conclusion, therefore, is that we really have very great challenges to achieve a healthy democracy in our country, given that such plurality does not exist," he said.

Emmanuel Colombié, director of RSF for Latin America, told the Knight Center that "excessive concentration of media ownership is a serious problem in practically all countries in Latin America, with a direct impact on the degree of pluralism, diversity and independence of information circulating in the region. " Even so, Brazil's situation is "particularly serious".

"In relation to Peru and Colombia, Brazil draws attention to the influence of politicians on the media, as indirect owners or partners, or through network structures and commercial agreements in which large national broadcasters sublicense their brand and its content for companies at the state level," he said.

For Colombié, "it is fundamental that the government creates public policies that bring more transparency to the communications sector in Brazil and limit the excessive concentration of media ownership."

The coordinator of Intervozes also highlighted the need to update the legal framework that regulates the media in Brazil, classified as “old and fragmented” by the report. Pasti recalled that the National Forum for Democratization of Communication in Brazil, of which the collective is a part, produced a proposal for a law of popular initiative, focused mainly on broadcasting, to update the legislation on media in Brazil.

"We need a legal framework that promotes plurality and diversity of voices and regional diversity, that fights the monopolization of communication and concentration of the media and that guarantees freedom of collective and individual expression, so that everyone can express their ideas so that all groups are represented, with the possibility of having a voice in society," Pasti said. "In summary, a legal framework that effectively guarantees the exercise of the right to communication."

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.