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One of the features I wish to have regularly on my Blog, is an occasional showcase of past work I have done in the field of writing. I enjoy the research process, and have done a number of research papers throughout my career. Today, I present a research paper from 2009, on Media Ethics in Brazil. Since the writing of this paper, a number of geopolitical changes have occurred globally and in South America in particular. After reviewing the sources, I am confident that the information in this report is still accurate a decade later, with the exception that digital print plays a much more significant role than it did. This is a trend that has occurred globally over the past several years, and I found it refreshing to view our current condition through a lens of the not-so-distant past.
Media Ethics in Brazil; Building an Ethical Tomorrow
Brazil, the largest country in South America, stands out as a burgeoning epicenter for media in Latin America. Only slightly smaller than the continental U.S., Brazil shares common borders with all South American nations except Chile and Ecuador. Home to the massive yet sparsely populated Amazon Basin, Brazil features a diverse landscape 8.511,965 km in size (CIA World Factbook).
Due to the scope of the nation, wireless communications are preferred and more common place. For instance, percentage wise, while it is estimated that Brazil is 6th in a ranking of mobile phone subscribers, the nation is 72nd in land line subscription (Nation Master Surveys). As one might imagine, the enormity of such a large mobile network would require quite an infrastructure, which Brazil possesses with an extensive microwave radio frequency relay system, as well as an advanced satellite relay network boasting 64 Earth relay stations (CIA). Resultantly, many media are also displayed via satellite communication, including television and internet services. This is a vast improvement over ground-based systems, especially considering the affordability and reach-ability of wireless communications to those who do not comprise the 86% urban population (CIA). Brazil is the largest South American media market, and fills their capacity with thousands of radio stations, as well as hundreds of freely broadcast analogue television stations in addition to the satellite markets (Encyclopedia of Nations). Concurrent with American Trends, Brazil intends to implement digital television broadcasts fully by 2016 (BBC). Additionally, there are over 300 daily publications in Brazil.
Media ethics in Brazil is handled very transparently, with ample legislative precedents securing the freedom of the press; in previous times this was not so. Riddled with years of transient governments which sought more to defeat such freedoms than secure them, with the implementation of a new constitution in 1988 the solidification of a governmental ethical precedent had begun. Present in the document is language, which is undeniably directed toward the media, and though ambiguous, tries to detail governmental boundaries on the topic. Most notable is the declaration of intent present in article 220 of the Brazilian constitution. It states ‘The manifestation of thought, the creation, the expression and the information, in any form, process or medium shall not be subject to restriction, with due regard to the provisions of this constitution” (Brazilian Constitution, A-220). That is to say that most anything is permissible as long as it does not breach the constitution itself. A detailed examination of the legislative history of Brazilian media rights/ethics reveals two key documents which had an identifiable influence on policy in the country: the 1962 Telecommunications Code and the 1967 Press Law. Although out-dated, the telecommunications code establishes a ban on government monopolization of the telecommunications industry, while the Press Law is an antiquated authoritarian doctrine securing power to the government; two thirds of it has been revoked, and little is enforced (Article XIX). Even with this security, media ethics and self censorship within the Brazilian media enjoy healthy debate, as it would also appear that some subversive censorship continues despite legislation attempting to quell it.
One issue currently present in the Brazilian press is the dilemma of ‘preventive censorship.’ In this model, a public figure may petition the court to ban various forms of media from referring to the individual by name. The logic here is that this act will prevent defamation of any form, due to the inability for defamation to take place. In addition to legal disputes, a disturbing trend has many members of the press harassed by local and federal Brazilian authorities as a form of de-facto censorship. Many of the legal cases are appealed, and higher courts tend not to uphold a censorship decision, however informal confrontations are common, and in the article ‘Preventative Censorship’ by Brazil Magazine, it has been argued by the organization Reporters Without Borders that “This legal hounding of the media at both the federal and state level, and the threats by gunmen against a TV journalist who investigates sensitive subjects are symptoms of the continuing fragility of press freedom in Brazil” (Brazil Magazine). Despite this backlash toward the liberal media, strict codes are put in place and enforced by most reputable publications, and the model of self-censorship generally regulates all forms of media within socially acceptable lines (SJSP).
In addition to the self-regulating constitutions set forth by the publications, acknowledged consortiums of media professionals also convene to produce more broad codes of ethics in various aspects of new and emerging media. The internet in Brazil is still very much in its formative years. An interesting phenomenon not encountered in nations at the forefront of the technological boom, Brazil’s economic prowess is catching up to her technological ability. As a result, many users are hindered by the expense of broadband internet, with about 34 million Brazilians being able to access the internet from their own home in 2008 (KAS Democracy Report 2008). About a decade ago, with the rise of the internet’s popularity in Brazil, came the need for an updated code of ethics which would remain consistent with other media codes while establishing guidelines for web specific issues. Due to the independent nature of the internet, the Brazilian Association of Interactive Media drafted its own code of ethics for Brazil. According to Guilhermino Figueira Neto, Ethics Director of (AIM) “The ethics code was created from a list already followed by other media and advertisers; all AIM did was to repeat the same procedures in the virtual environment, with the same common sense criteria. (Neto; Internet News)”.
The phrase ‘common sense criteria’ is inherently vague. When one holds the magnifying glass up to the precedents and principles upon which these codes of ethics are actually built, it becomes evident that the actions of the powers that govern communications are louder than the words featured in the constitution.
In 2008, the Institute for Research and Study of Communication (EPCOM) conducted research into political ownership of media interests. The data is indicative of a fundamental attitude flaw among those involved. It was discovered that 271 politicians in Brazil either hold a stake in or direct 348 television and radio stations in the country (Data provided by KAS). At present, this issue is not being dealt with, because those in the position to expose such behavior are under the control of those who perpetrate unethical behavior.
A related issue in Brazil is the conglomeration of the media. A total of six large corporations run all the media in Brazil. The largest contender—TV Globo—spends 3 billion USD on publicity each year and hold a full half of the media in the country; their annual revenue is 1.59 trillion USD. TV Globo holds 54% of the television market—all six companies and 138 affiliates combined, own 668 media outlets in Brazil (KAS, 2008). It has been proposed by freedom of expression advocacy group Article IX, that “at least three distinct types of media-related pluralism or diversity have been identified: content, outlet, and source…the absence of source pluralism, reflected in the growing phenomenon of concentration of media ownership, can impact on content, as well as independence and quality, in important ways” (Article XIX, 4).
In short, the media is developing at a steady pace, and although constitutionally protected, at times authorities can pressure news agencies into a subversive self-censorship—especially during election times. Although democratization has come, old habits die hard, and it can be impractical to operate a democracy under some laws of dictatorship, which are long since antiquated.
Yet beyond the media, the system itself must be evaluated by best international standards. The basic right to freedom of expression is guaranteed under article 5 of the Brazilian constitution, as well as the freedom of press (Brazilian Constitution; Article V). This is a distinct difference between the Brazilian constitution and the United States constitution. In the U.S. constitution the freedom of expression, religion, the press, to petition, and to assemble are granted under the first amendment to the constitution (U.S. Constitution, Amendment I). One may argue that a simple amendment is not enough to secure such important freedoms. In Brazil, not only are free expression, freedom from censorship, free press, free opinion, and freedom of information staples of the constitution itself, but they are protected by a particular kind of article known as a clausula petrea—entrenched clause—which is impossible to change without re-drafting the entire constitution (KAS 2008).
These freedoms are dear to the people of Brazil, who are just beginning to enjoy what a democracy can offer. It is likely because the citizens endured difficult times under harsh rule, that such a strong ethical standard be entrenched into the constitution. Perhaps in nations which have enjoyed a liberal capitalist democracy for over a century, such basic rights are taken for granted, and ethics are largely left to be self-monitored by watchdog organizations. But the significance of such ethical principles within the constitution should be applauded.
Another promising aspect of the Brazilian model of media ethics is the openness to expelling political influence from the radio waves (Article XIX). Although it is true that members of the community radio encounter bureaucratic roadblocks on their way to becoming licensed, the rate at which the radio stations are being established is on the increase. In many ways this purging is good for the country.
While in the United States it is considered inappropriate for a politician to have their own access to a radio program, there are many opinionated talk show hosts who campaign for them. Since the environment of self censorship out of fear is on the decline in Brazil, this increases the likelihood of more balanced content. It is important to note that many of the independent radio broadcasters remain unaffiliated, and therefore are able to report in an unbiased manner (Brazil Magazine). This is not to say there will not be biased reporting, as there always is, yet a feature to be commended of Brazilian media is it’s formative nature as a contrast to the feeling of settled infallibility afforded to U.S. media institutions. In the eyes of some, this is a new opportunity for Brazil. According to Carolina Matos in her book Journalism and Political Democracy in Brazil, advancements in the decades following the end of the dictatorship included “a wider consolidation in Brazilian newsrooms of liberal democratic values” characterized by “a growth in professionalism…more dialogue between politicians,” and “greater political independence (Matos, 231, 2008)”. It is important to consider Brazil’s economic prosperity during this period, as increased globalization bolstered the Brazilian economy, and eased political tensions.
Another admirable characteristic of media ethics within the Brazilian system is the government support of the media itself. While new media such as the internet do not get any government funding, the government sponsors many television and print media sources in two ways, tax exemptions and advertisements. The Brazilian government is quite generous when it comes to taxation on media outlets, but it may not be by choice. In another ethically motivated constitutional clause, Brazilian doctrine states that it is unlawful to tax newspapers, books, and periodicals, as well as the paper they are printed on (KAS 2008).
In addition to this constitutional stipulation, the government buys an exorbitant amount of advertisements from the companies, which in turn display some government programming (Article XIX). This is also a common practice in the US; however most political programming is for those campaigning for office rather than the government itself. While the argument that over involvement of the government may be reflected negatively through media diversity—or political autonomy— state participation in the media may also be viewed as a way of ensuring the continuation of these institutions.
This is best exemplified by the current slowdown in the global economy. While smaller, independent U.S. media outlets are closing down left and right—8,097 layoffs in 2009 thus far (Paper cut data map, 2009)—Brazilians bought 25% more newspapers in the first three quarters 2008, than in 2006 (Greenslade, 2008). While most U.S. outlets may still be able to publish their news through the internet, the Brazilian investment into the print media exemplifies a commendable interest in these institutions on the part of the state. This may be due to the fact that although internet access is available, it is largely a luxury affordable by the upper class.
As earlier noted, there are consortiums of professionals in both the U.S. and in Brazil, who convene to revise and update codes of ethics for all sorts of media in their country. In the United States, the ‘most broad-based’ journalism organization is the society of professional journalists, or SPJ (SPJ, 2009). The Brazilian equivalent is the Sindicato dos Jornalistas de Sao Paulo, or SJSP. The most striking difference between the two codes produced by these organizations is the disclaimer featured at the beginning of the code itself: “The code is intended not as a set of ‘rules’ but as a resource for ethical decision-making. It is not — nor can it be under the First Amendment — legally enforceable (SPJ, 2009)”. This is an interesting pre-amble to the code that immediately follows, and effectively removes the teeth from a code meant to guide news-media ethics.
In stark contrast, the Brazilian code features a section entitled “Implementation of the Code and Final Provisions” In addition to outlining the constitution of the code, article 18 offers this: “the exercise of representation…with evident intent to harm the principle…subject the offender to public warning and punishment under this code (SJSP, 2009)”. This is an important distinction between what recommended behavior is, and what forced behavior is. A different approach to ethics, this ‘legislated morality’ offers a higher incentive to behave ethically, which is ideologically admirable. In fact, it seems that the only way to ensure that the greatest amount of people adhere to any given law, is to set a penalty for breaking said law. This is the system on which the legal system is built, but in the U.S. this does not transition to ethical codes unless the breach of a code is also found to be unlawful in and of itself.
Ultimately it seems difficult to compare the two nations, as each have a distinct cultural and historical circumstance leading to their present state of media ethics. It cannot however be denied that there are positive aspects to the ideology of the Brazilian media.
While by the best international standards, this nation may not represent a bastion of ethical behavior, their improvement and development as a democracy has occurred quite rapidly over the past twenty years and continues to do so. While it is common to look down on systems with fundamental flaws, the truth of the matter is that the state of Brazilian media ethics is comparatively strong to previous regimes. As internet access becomes less expensive, access to information will become even easier, until eventually the motivation for creating a bias will be virtually nonexistent.
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