Written by Katharina Dorn

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  • Area: 8.514.877 square kilometres
  • Population: approx. 205 Mio.
  • Capital: Brasília
  • State form: Federal republic
  • Official languages: Portuguese
  • Religion: Catholic (65%, 2010), Protestantism (22%)
  • Flag of Brazil

    After more than five decades of suppression, Brazilian journalism is still facing problems regarding media freedom often caused by regulatory voids and lax enforcement of legislation. Strong state interventionism and close ties of media owners with the government reduce the diversity of opinions. Some politicians are owning or controlling media outlets, although this is prohibited by law. Laws against defamation are a common praxis to censor critical reporting leading to high fines or even incarceration of journalists. Licenses are used as a political currency restricting access to the media market. Ownership concentration and cross-ownership, especially in the broadcasting sector, is high, strengthening traditionally dominating family structures. Centralization of the media in megacities of the south, like São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, is resulting in an information void in the provinces. Moreover, a deteriorating security situation poses a big threat to media autonomy. With seven journalists murdered in 2015, Brazil continues to be the third deadliest country for media workers in the Western hemisphere after Mexico and Honduras (Reporters Without Borders, 2016a). A lot of these journalists wrote about taboo topics such as corruption, freedom of expression, state-press relations, police abuses, and organized crime. Consequently, journalists often avoid discussing sensitive information. In 2016, Reporters without Borders ranked Brazil on 104 out of 180 countries. In its Freedom of the Press report in 2016, the Freedom House Foundation scored it 46 of 100, rating it “partly free”. Because of its weak public media market, low diversity due to high media concentration and a rather indirect influence of politics (via close ties to owners, licensing, state advertising orders, personal intervening of politicians), the Brazilian media system can be grouped together with Mexico in the Cartelism type.
    Communication policy and regulations
    Media freedom in Brazil is legally granted by Article 220 of the constitution of 1988 which ensures freedom of speech and the press. Censorship is explicitly forbidden. However, analogous to other Latin American Countries, like Peru and Mexico, the history of the country provides an insight into serious interferences in press freedom and can provide an explanation of the current legal situation. Brazil was shaped by alternations between authoritarian and democratic phases where media freedom was restricted and sometimes completely abolished (Albuquerque, 2012: 85; Reis, 2003: 117).

    The beginnings (1808)
    The Brazilian media system does not go back very far in history when compared to Spanish and English colonies in the USA. The colonization was an important factor for a late establishment of the Brazilian press. Press freedom was first established in 1808 because printing presses were prohibited and literacy and education were highly discouraged by the Portuguese rulers (Grünewald & Kirsch, 2009: 826-827; Reis, 2003: 117, 119-120). In 1808, the first Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Rio de Janeiro was published (Grünewald & Kirsch, 2009: 827).

    The Vargas regime (1930-45; 1951-54)
    Getúlio Vargas ruled Brazil from 1930 to 1945 and 1951 to 1954 alternating as dictator, congressionally or popularly elected president. In 1946, he was temporarily replaced by a bloodless military coup. He was particularly fierce in suppression of press freedom, positioned the state as a licensing authority and content regulator and used the media as a propaganda tool (Grünewald & Kirsch, 2009; Mizukami, Reia, & Varon, 2013: 831). By the creation of a propaganda department, only government supported news were disseminated. Prosecution, imprisonment, and censorship of journalists were common (Reis, 2003: 119). Moreover, the state was the main advertiser of the media and, thus, could exert economic pressure on them (Matos, 2011: 7). In 1954, press freedom was restored after Vargas had committed suicide. However, this situation should again take another turn for the worse, when democracy was replaced by military rule in a coup d’état in 1964.

    Military rule (1964-85)
    The largest upheaval for the media system was caused by the military takeover in 1964 (Barranco, 2012; Grünewald & Kirsch, 2009: 834). Press freedom was again limited, dissident journalists were persecuted, imprisoned and censored and several newspapers were closed down (Reis, 2003: 124). The broadcasting sector, however, benefitted from economic policies of the military that expanded Brazils telecommunications infrastructure. Furthermore, it maintained close ties to the regime. Grupo Globo, for instance, thrived through a symbiotic partnership with the military by closely collaborating with the regime (Mizukami et al., 2013: 38). Its owner Roberto Marinho publicly supported the coup d’état in his newspaper O Globo. The broadcasting sector’s economic and political strength persists until today (Grünewald & Kirsch, 2009: 834; Reis, 2003: 122). In 1962, the Brazilian Telecommunications Code was approved which still regulates the broadcasting sector (Hervieu, 2013: 21).

    Public criticism of the military by the media was rare, until Vladimir Herzog who worked at the state-owned educational channel TV Cultura was tortured to death by military police officers in 1975. This represented a major turning point for the relationship between the military and the press and the return of democracy (Hervieu, 2013: 25). Ironically, the Press Code (Lei de Imprensa) was enacted during this difficult time in 1967 which survived the return of democracy until 2009. It guaranteed freedom of the press and prohibited censorship (Article 1) but also contained mechanisms to control dissident voices: exceptions which forbade war propaganda and subversion of the political and social order were used to justify censorship by the regime (Hervieu, 2013: 11,16; Reis, 2003: 119,123). One year later, a presidential executive order, known as Institutional Act No. 5 (AI-5) was implemented. Until 1978, it gave the military the power to suspend institutions and fundamental freedoms at any time in order to protect the state security and establish media censorship (Hervieu, 2013: 11; Reis, 2003: 119).

    Abertura política (beginning 1985)
    In the late 1970s, newspapers and community radios were instrumental in pressing and overseeing the transition from military to democratic rule, also known as abertura política – political opening (Barranco, 2012; Reis, 2003: 119; Rowan, Nordenstreng, & Thussu, 2015: 117-118). After two decades of military rule, democracy was re-established in 1985 also leading to more media freedom (Grünewald & Kirsch, 2009: 824; Reis, 2003: 124). In 1988, a new constitution was approved which expressly prohibits censorship and contains several provisions for the media:

    • Article 220/5: Prohibition of monopolies and oligopolies
    • Article 221/I: Preference for educational, cultural, and informative goals in the media
    • Article 221/II: Promotion of national and regional culture
    • Article 221/III: Regionalization of cultural artistic, and journalistic production
    • Article 221/IV: Respect for ethical and social values

    Article 222 and 223 contain principles regarding the broadcasting sector:
    • Article 222/3: Compliance of broadcasting with principles of Article 221
    • Article 223: Complementarity of public, state, and private broadcasting
    • Article 221/II: – Article 223/1, 2, and 5: The executive branch is responsible for granting and renewing broadcast licenses. The licensing decision is submitted to Congress.

    The constitution is one of the most important sources of media law in Brazil. However, there’s no further regulation regarding the compliance of outlets with the provisions (Mizukami et al., 2013: 113; Saravia, 2008). In the 1990s, the media had regained their strength increasingly denouncing social and economic problems (e.g. poverty, corruption, abuse of power) in a watchdog role. Two press institutions played an important part in the transition to democracy: the Brazilian Press Association (Associação Brasileira de Imprensa) and the Federation of Journalists (Federação Nacional dos Jornalistas) which still play an important part in the fight for media freedom. In 1997, the Telecommunications Code (Lei Geral de Telecomunicações, LGT) created a federal agency (Agência Nacional de Telecomunicações; Anatel) which manages telecommunications licensing and technical regulations (Mizukami et al., 2013: 72; Reis, 2003: 124). In 2009, the Press Code was repealed by the Supreme Court, leading to a regulatory void of the media which persists until today. Pressure towards formulation of a new media regulatory framework increased which lead to the National Conference on Communication (Confecom), where reforms of the communications policy were discussed. Since there had been a legal vacuum regarding the internet, a new law called Marco Civil da Internet was passed in 2014 ensuring user privacy, freedom of online expression, and net neutrality. A downside of the law is that service providers must retain user data for one year which can be accessed with a court order (Hervieu, 2013: 26; Meister, 2014).
    Media offers
    Brazil is South America’s largest media market with hundreds of television channels, thousands of radio stations, and a few major newspapers. Ownership is highly concentrated in media sector. Only a few traditionally family-owned companies like Grupo Globo, Grupo Folha, Grupo Abril, and Grupo Estado control wide shares of the market. They all own a leading position in broadcast, print, and telecommunications industries resulting in a high concentration of the media sector. News are provided by several private news agencies owned by the major mass media of Brazil: Agéncia Estado, Agéncia O Globo, Agéncia Folha, and the state-owned Agéncia Brasil (BBC News, 2016; Reis, 2003: 125).

    The Brazilian press market is highly concentrated. The main quality papers with national reach are the dailies Folha de São Paulo owned by the Frias family (circulation: 298.000), O Globo by the Marinho family (278.000), and O Estado de São Paulo of the Mesquita family (235.000) which are mostly located in the major cities in Brazil’s south and south-east where most of the population is living. Newspaper readership has traditionally been low with a daily circulation of newspapers of about eight million which is a small number compared to the total population. This can be explained by economic reasons (expensive newspaper subscriptions), media platform preferences, and a high illiteracy rate of the population in the north. The most read weekly magazine is Veja of Editora Abril (owned by the Civita family) with a weekly circulation of 1.076.000 which is clearly dominating the market (Barranco, 2012; Mizukami et al., 2013: 29,31; Novais, 2011). Newspapers are financed by both private and public (state) advertising (Matos, 2011: 2).

    The market structure of Brazilian media is largely shaped by the dominance and popularity of broadcasting media which have been politically privileged from the beginning and represent the predominant source of entertainment and news. In 2011, about 98 per cent of households owned a TV-set and 86 per cent a radio-set (Mizukami et al., 2013: 7,16; Reis, 2003: 125). Besides some state-owned and public TV channels like TV Brasil, TV Cultura, and TVE, most of the Brazilian broadcasters are privately-owned. The structure of the free-TV market is defined by a network system. Only a few parent groups are producing most of the content which is re-broadcasted by affiliates (Grünewald & Kirsch, 2009: 835). Some of the most watched national television channels are the leading private broadcaster Rede Globo (market share: 70 per cent), followed by TV Record which is owned by the founder of the religious group Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (13 per cent), the Sistema Brasileiro de Televisão of the Silvio Santos Group (5 per cent), and Rede Bandeirantes of the Saad family (3 per cent) (BBC News, 2016; Meta Instituto de Pesquisa, 2010: 20). They are all located in the megacities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in the southeast. Globo is the second largest commercial television network in the world by commercial income and has established a leading position in the country. Dominating the broadcasting industry, it operates in a wide range of other businesses like the print and telecommunications sector, owns film and music companies, and even printing and logistic services. Globo’s popularity and its expansion of in many industries have led to a big political, economic and content-related influence of the conglomerate. It is even claimed, that the network had an enormous impact on the elections in 1989 (Mizukami et al., 2013: 85; Novais, 2011; Porto, 2012: 77-78). State advertising is largely allocated at Globo which receives 43.7 per cent of the annual budget (Rodrigues, 2013). Content is mainly focused on news and entertainment (especially telenovelas) accompanied by a high level of sensationalism. News offers strongly focus on foreign content and the megacities in the south. Broadcasts containing cultural programs are rare (Grünewald & Kirsch, 2009: 838). Holding less than one per cent market share, the influence of public TV channels is rather insignificant (Mizukami et al., 2013: 43). The broadcasting sector is controlled by the Ministry of Communications (MiniCom), which regulates the allocation of licenses (Grünewald & Kirsch, 2009: 831).
    Due to limited infrastructure, illiteracy, and financial restrictions, radio is a very important source of information, especially in rural areas (Novais, 2011). Similar to the television sector most Brazilian radio stations are privately owned. According to Anatel, Brazil had a total of 4018 Radio stations in 2011, most of them located in the southeast. The largest operators are the private networks Rádio Gaúcha (143 stations), Jovem Pan (142), and American Sat (72) (Grünewald & Kirsch, 2009: 832-833; Mizukami et al., 2013: 26).

    In 2016, 139 million Brazilians were online which turns Brazil into the largest internet population in Latin America (BBC News, 2016; Rowan et al., 2015: 246). Although internet access is not restricted, a huge digital divide separates the rural and economically weak north (access rate 2012: 10 per cent) from the wealthier south (44 per cent). Cybercafés are bridging the digital divide for low-income groups (Mizukami et al., 2013: 8, 18). The most popular websites are the web portals controlled by traditional media groups, like by Grupo Folha, by Globo or by Grupo Abril (Mizukami et al., 2013: 30).
    Journalists' autonomy
    Although media freedom is granted by the Brazilian constitution, there’s serious interference in the media system by several factors. A high concentration and centralization of the media market is resulting in a lack of diversity of opinions. Moreover, a strong state interventionism accompanied by censorship of dissident content, and the threatening and murder of media workers are limiting media autonomy. These undesirable developments in the media sector are caused by a lack of transparency, lax enforcement of rules, regulatory blanks, and an absence of adequate checks on cross-media ownership.

    High concentration of the media market
    The ownership of Brazilian mass media is highly concentrated among a few conglomerates and focused on urban areas in the south which limits quality and diversity of content and leads to a neglect of reporting on northern areas (BBC News, 2016; Freedom House, 2016). Although Article 220/5 of the constitution forbids the formation of monopolies and oligopolies, missing definitions and a lax enforcement of this rule result in a largely under-regulated media sector (Mizukami et al., 2013: 83-84). Article 12 of Degree 236 of 1967 represents the only further attempt to limit broadcasting ownership which restricts the ownership rate to ten television and 20 radio stations (Presidência da República, 1967). However, the decree has never been fully enforced. Furthermore, legislation does not contain any cross-ownership regulation (except for pay-TV as shown in Law 12485/11) and disregards family ties in a media landscape which is traditionally shaped by family ownership (De Lima, 2011: 86). Grupo RBS, a Globo affiliate which is controlled by the Sirotsky family owns 18 television stations – since they are controlled by different companies, no violation of Article 12 was assumed, even though some of them belonged to the same family (Mizukami et al., 2013: 84). Fraud and a lack of transparency regarding concessions are also major problems: an investigation of Folha de São Paulo found, that many companies which received a broadcast license between 1997 and 2010 were not operating from the address registered with the MiniCom. Often, workers illegally lent their name to the real owners for business transactions, acting as so-called “laranjas” (straw men) (Mizukami et al., 2013: 74,92). A new Freedom of Information Law passed in 2012 could provide stronger checks for transparency in media ownership since it guarantees public access to documents of government agencies and private entities which receive public funding (Freedom House, 2016; Presidência da República, 2012).

    Strong state interventionism
    The Brazilian state has several possibilities to restrict media autonomy. Since the government is a major advertiser of the broadcasting sector, it can exert economic pressure on outlets. In 2011, US$ 262 million on advertising were spent on the private sector by state (Mizukami et al., 2013: 95). Eugênio Bucci, a São Paulo university professor and columnist of O Estado de São Paulo, said: “Without any restrictions, government advertisement contributes to unbalance and distort the market, ruining the environment for freedom of the press” (Mizukami et al., 2013: 96). Conformity of reporting is necessary, since losing these ads would mean the death for the medium-sized outlets. “This is not just pressure, this is all-out tutelage”, Bucci stated (Hervieu, 2013: 7). Moreover, a supportive relationship between the state and media moguls makes independent reporting almost impossible (Matos, 2011: 2-3). Brazilian journalism is under the sway of so-called colonels. They are landowners or industrialists who have a predominating power of opinion and a strong relationship with political and economic power centres to strengthen personal and partisan power. This system of patrimonialism which is common for Latin American countries obstructs the free flow of information and pluralism (Rowan et al., 2015: 110). It has never been questioned since the rule of the military: The generals have gone, but the colonels remain (Hervieu, 2013: 6). Paulo Bernardo Silva, former communication minister, says: “It is easier to remove the president in Brazil than to withdraw a broadcast frequency from any politician” (Reporters Without Borders, 2016c: 27). Political misuse of broadcast licensing has been a fixture of the media landscape for years. About 40 senators directly or indirectly own and control media outlets although Article 55 of the constitution forbids ownership and management of public entities by members of the legislature (Hervieu, 2013: 7; Reporters Without Borders, 2016c). This has been a legacy of former president José Sarney who rewarded a wide range of licenses to members of Congress in exchange for political support only a few days before the promulgation of the 1988 constitution. It is not surprising that these licenses have been repeatedly renewed by Congress (Mizukami et al., 2013: 74, 126). Moreover, if a license requires a renewal and there’s still no decision by Congress, the renewing is automatically granted according to Article 4 of Decree 88.066/1983 (Presidência da República, 1983). It is said, that the strong ties between politicians and the media even led to the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff because the media played an important role in turning the public against her. During the economic and social protests movement (Brazilian spring) in 2013, the media were heavily criticized because the population regarded them as mouthpieces of the government (Matos, 2016).
    As Article 223 of the constitution shows, the government can also control the access to the media market by licensing which lead to a heightened politicization of license ownership (Mizukami et al., 2013: 117). Presidents often used the distribution of concessions as a form of political patronage (Abreu, 2010; Matos, 2011: 7). Plus, most calls for tender are resolved on a price basis which favours the market leaders (Lopes, 2008; Mizukami et al., 2013: 72). Community media are clearly disadvantaged (which violates Article 223 of the constitution) since their licensing is a very complicated, opaque, and tedious process. They often have to rely on political connections to get their proposals processed more quickly (Hervieu, 2013: 11; Mizukami et al., 2013: 75).

    Censorship of dissident content
    Although the constitution guarantees freedom of speech, this right can be restricted by the state in case of harmful content for minors, advertising that may be harmful to health or the environment or missing conformity of broadcasting to Article 222/3 of the constitution. The conformity of reporting with these requirements can be regarded as an indirect media mission. Moreover, since the repeal of the Press Code, legislative voids lead to arbitrary decisions of the courts regarding the regulation of contents. Several defamation lawsuits were filed against critical reporting of journalists by politicians or public officials imposing high fines or even prison sentences (BBC News, 2016; Hervieu, 2013: 7). In 2009, O Estado de São Paulo received a gag order on reporting about sensitive matters involving the former president’s son, Fernando Sarney who was allegedly involved in a corruption case (Recondo, 2009). The absence of formal regulation for internet content led to arbitrary judicial decisions to remove material often imposing hefty fines for publishing undesirable information. Judges often over-interpret what could be considered harmful content justifying censorship by regulations about hate speech, libel, and defamation of the Brazilian Penal Code (Freedom House, 2016; Mizukami et al., 2013: 111). The new Internet Bill of Rights, Marco Civil, could help identify autonomous bloggers by its regulation on data retention. Moreover, provisions on defamation in the Electoral Code of 1965 were used to block many blogs during the municipal elections 2012. Many offers were closed down at candidates’ requests for posting unfavourable opinion polls (Hervieu, 2013: 10). The blog Repiquete no Meio do Mundo was brought down because of a cartoon deemed offensive by former president José Sarney (Mizukami et al., 2013: 111). Blogger Paulo Cezar de Andrade Prado was imprisoned for over four months due to defamation allegations of the president of the São Paulo soccer club (Freedom House, 2016).

    Poor security situation
    Another major threat to journalists’ autonomy is the poor security situation in Brazil which makes it hard to maintain high journalistic standards. With eight journalists killed in 2015, Brazil ranks as one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists to work in (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2016). Reporters frequently face extra-legal threats and violence from the police, government officials or criminal groups. Physical attacks, coercion, and killings are common, especially in north-eastern regions (Hervieu, 2013: 4). Consequently, journalists avoid discussing sensitive information such as corruption, freedom of expression on traditional media platforms, ties between politicians and the media, police abuses, protests, organized crime, and drug trafficking (Hervieu, 2013: 15; Miner, 2017; Mizukami et al., 2013: 65; Reis, 2003: 117; Witchel, 2016). Politically motivated attacks are the most common form of crimes against journalists who can pay with their lives for challenging those wielding power (Hervieu, 2013: 15). Pedro Palma, journalists of the weekly Panorama Regional who published stories about corruption among local governments in Rio de Janeiro state, was gunned down in 2014. Killings and assaults are not investigated properly resulting in a high level of impunity. However, some progress has been made in the prosecution of murderers of media professional. The murderer of Décio Sá – blog owner and journalist of the newspaper O Estado do Maranhão who was shot in 2012 – was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Sá was targeted after posting a story about a local businessman involved in illegal activities on his blog (Freedom House, 2015). The Ministry of Human Rights advised the government to create a working group which should further observe violence against journalists. However, the legislative proposal was rejected in 2016 (Reporters Without Borders, 2016c).
    Related Links
    Recommended citation form
    Katharina Dorn: Brazil. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. (access date).

    Satellite dishes are enabling the population in remote areas to access broadcast services. Foto taken near Piracaia/Brazil. Source: ©Jörg Padberg

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