Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, surpassed only by Russia, China, the USA, and Canada. It has over 180 million people, the largest Portuguese-speaking population in the world. Independent since 1822, Brazil suffered in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from several military and authoritarian regimes, and became a republican democracy again in 1988, with a president as head of the government, being elected every four years. One of the world’s developing nations, Brazil maintains both modern territories, inhabited by the wealthier classes, and traditional spaces, which are associated with impoverished social segments. Fittingly, the country’s media system reproduces these polar oppositions. It is shaped by the coexistence of industrial products (high tech), in demand within its consumer society, and craft arts, which circulate in the marginalized communities.
Historical And Cultural Background
Starting in the sixteenth century, Brazil’s territory was disputed by various European powers (Portuguese, French, and Dutch). The dominant tool of communication along the coastline was tupi-guarani, an indigenous language. This lingua franca prevailed for almost three centuries and was systematized by the Jesuits for pedagogical reasons.
The discovery of gold in Brazil’s hinterlands encouraged the Portuguese to expand and consolidate their colonial settlements in the country, a task that required them to bring in workers from other parts of the world. White settlers coming from Europe or recruited in Portugal’s Asian colonies (Goa, Macau, Timor), along with Africans brought in as slaves, added to the existing racial mix between the Portuguese and the indigenous population. As a result, there was an inevitable linguistic conflict between the assimilated populations and the newcomers, which led the colonial government to intervene and impose the mandatory use of the Portuguese language.
This process generated numerous tensions, which caused the language to change. Words, phrases, and accents belonging both to African dialects and to indigenous languages began to mix with each other. As a result, there appeared a spoken linguistic code that was legitimized by its use among the subaltern classes but remained apart from the written language preferred by the elites. Communication among the working classes stayed close to orality and was dominant in the colony’s hinterlands, while the idle classes remained connected to the linguistic affectations of the imperial court. In this rhetorical dissonance we will find the roots of the asymmetrical configurations that characterize the media system in Brazil nowadays.
For centuries, the country’s vast extension and irregular landscape prevented media flows from reaching Brazil’s hinterlands. This explains why transportation by the ocean was preferred as a means of interconnecting the cities along the coast (Salvador, São Vicente, Recife, Rio de Janeiro) and the metropolitan center (Lisbon), and why communication with the settlements in the hinterlands (Minas and Goiás) was so difficult. As a result, there appeared regionalized cultural patterns, which shared the same linguistic code but were separated by differences between local customs. This “cultural archipelago” remained practically unchanged until the twentieth century, when the use of fluvial transportation helped optimize communication between different parts of the country. Little by little, highways, railroads, air transportation, and information technology have helped lift the obstacles that prevented the circulation of material and symbolic goods.
The overall situation was worsened by the cultural policies adopted by the Portuguese crown during the colonial era. Shortly before the country’s independence (early nineteenth century), there were still no schools, universities, press, libraries, mail service, or other cultural apparatus. The intellectual backwardness and cognitive sluggishness of the colonial era delayed the civilizing process in the independent nation. The majority of Brazil’s society was made up of black slaves (illiterate, oppressed, and impoverished). The ending of slavery did not happen until the late nineteenth century. Even then, the abolition was not followed by public policies that emphasized cognitive inclusion and social mobility. Left to their own resources, the former slaves increased the migration movements from the countryside to the cities, thus creating marginalized communities, which are the seeds of the slums scattered all over the metropolitan areas today.
In those spaces, the impoverished communities create rudimentary communication flows. Relying on popular cultural manifestations that are reminiscent of rural traditions, they struggle to adapt to city life, as they encounter experiences produced by mass media flows (cinema, the music industry, radio, television).
Symptoms Of Transition
These two Brazils confront, interact with, and complement each other. The traditional manifestations of folk communication reinterpret and recreate the mass media discourses that are associated with the modern country. Because of the elites’ hesitant approaches to existing social inequities, the gap between the two currents was narrowed throughout the twentieth century.
The arrival of foreign immigrants (educated and politically conscious) helped develop the print media in the country. More recently, educational opportunities for the urban working classes have helped increase the circulation of newspapers and magazines. And the higher level of education among the middle classes has contributed to the improvement of content material on television, as has been the case with the telenovelas. But if there is no significant change in the existing forms of social exclusion and educational poverty, which affect large pockets of Brazil’s society, the two media subsystems will remain active, corresponding to the cultural needs of distinct, distant, and segregated audiences.
Industrial Subsystem And Legal Framework
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Brazil’s communication industry has the hegemony of audiovisual media, mainly television, followed by radio. TV is present in 90 percent of all households and radio reaches 87 percent of all residences. The role of print media is small, if not residual.
In 2005, advertising expenses in Brazil reached a total of US$6,689 million. Most of it, as much as 61.9 percent, was used in television advertising, a percentage that has remained unchanged in the past ten years. Radio advertising represents 4.2 percent.
The legal framework established by the 1988 Constitution guarantees press freedom and preserves private ownership of media industry. Foreign investors are forbidden to control more than 30 percent of the business capital. Print media are opened to investments, but electronic media remain as state monopolies, granted to private operation according to rules established by the parliament.
Restricted to privileged segments of Brazil’s society, newspapers help shape public opinion. Their readers are members of the country’s power elite in government, civil society, and the media industry. There are around 3,098 newspapers in the country, of which only 535 are printed daily. Their circulation is concentrated in the wealthiest regions of the country (southeast and south), where we find 75.5 percent of all titles.
Regional circulation is an important feature. There are no daily national newspapers in Brazil. While a few do enjoy “national prestige” and cover subjects of public interest, most of their readers live in the same region in which the newspapers are printed. Circulation is modest compared to examples in other countries. The total number of copies printed daily is 8 million. Assuming that each copy is read by an average of three people, there is a readership of approximately 24 million people. This excludes at least two thirds of all Brazilians.
The papers with the largest circulation are, fittingly, those that enjoy “national prestige”: Folha de São Paulo (297,000 copies), O Globo (258,000), and O Estado de São Paulo (218,000). Their leadership, however, is being threatened by tabloids published by large corporations and read by the urban working classes. This is the case with Extra, which has a daily circulation of 250,000 in Rio de Janeiro, uses colloquial language, and covers everyday subjects. This tendency indicates the advertisers’ preference for those media whose form and content are accessible to the majority of potential consumers. Another share of the advertising investment goes to print media, with newspapers taking 16.3 percent of the total, compared to magazines, which receive only 8.8 percent. The Internet’s share is almost residual (1.7 percent), a little less than half of what is spent on billboards (4.3 percent).
Radio And Television
The main source of education, information, and entertainment for the subaltern classes, radio was historically a local or regional medium, but after satellite is being linked by national networks. The system is composed of two fighting segments: a powerful commercial sector with 3,668 stations controlled by entrepreneurs and politicians, and a popular sector with more than 10,000 small stations not completed legalized, but well managed by social movements, religious communities, ethnic groups, and radical societies.
Just as we begin to enter the digital era, Brazilian television shows unequivocal signs of strength. Brazil has 9 television networks, with 406 broadcasting stations, of which 386 are privately owned and 20 are state run. Brazilian television reaches 48 million households in 5,564 municipalities throughout the nation. It is the medium with the greatest socio-cultural impact on Brazilian society.
The country’s leading TV network for several years, Rede Globo, has 50 percent of all viewers in Brazil. The other half is disputed by the eight competing networks: SBT (19.4 percent), Bandeirantes (13.1 percent), Record (9 percent), and Rede TV (2.3 percent), with the others taking the remaining viewers. Most programs are nationally produced, the preference going to entertainment (fiction, sports, and comedy), followed by information (news). Looking at the figures for the main network (Rede Globo), we easily notice that telenovelas take up most of the airtime (50 percent), followed by music and comedy shows (19 percent), news (17 percent), sports (8 percent), and films (6 percent).
In the 1950s and 1960s, a significant percentage of all programs were imported from foreign countries, mainly the United States. Brazil’s television industry has since then gradually reduced its dependence on imports. In fact, it became an exporter of television content in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Rede Globo, for instance, exports telenovelas, music shows, and sports programs to over 100 countries. Recently, other companies have entered the audiovisual market. The Record network’s telenovelas have been a hit in neighboring Latin American countries and distant Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa.
The Internet has enjoyed enormous growth in Brazil. In 10 years of regular service, it has reached an ever-expanding audience. It is estimated that the Internet now has 26 million users in Brazil, which corresponds, not coincidently, to the number of daily newspaper readers in the country. But since the Internet has more diverse content, one expects that number to increase in the next few years.
Internet users belong to the upper social strata. Of those, 57 percent are considered wealthy and 31 percent are middle class. Almost half of all users are young, between 10 and 24 years old. What do Brazilian Internet users look for? Most of them log on to the web for practical reasons, although a significant number of them admit a preference for entertainment.
Craft Arts Subsystem
Cut off from both the print media and the Internet, the disenfranchised communities that inhabit the outskirts of Brazil’s major cities rely on rudimentary forms of expression to reinterpret messages disseminated by the mass media and to share their own opinions, information, or advice. Both those who are disenfranchised – the landless, homeless, jobless, etc. – and those who are culturally marginalized – members of religious sects, political dissidents, sexual minorities, and the physically impaired – use alternative forms of communication. They all resort to discursive strategies to survive, maintaining social cohesiveness, facing prejudice, and preserving ethnic identities and ethical values.
The folk media subsystem remains autonomous in relation to the mass media subsystem, but it also addresses its counterpart dialectically. Sometimes it serves as a mediator that filters and transmits meanings generated elsewhere. At other times, it fills in the gaps left open by the mass media. The interactive tension between folk media and mass media adds strength and vitality to Brazil’s transitional status in the early twenty-first century.
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