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II. Media and communication structures and systems

The Brazilian media system in a turbulent environment

This chapter examines the Brazilian media system in its regional, geographic and historical context. In particular, it considers the impact of the turbulent political environment since 2013 on the media system and on how information is disseminated to and shared by the public. In recent years, as will be presented below, political mobilizations and technological phenomena, such as increased access to the Internet, have influenced the ways of production, distribution and access to the media, especially with regard to the impact of the growth of the media on policy debates and decisions.

The Latin American context

As the biggest country in Latin America, occupying over 40 per cent of the land mass with over 8.5 million square kilometers, Brazil is the most important country in the region - as well as a formidable media power. With a population of 209 million (34 per cent of the population of Latin America), 84 per cent of whom live in 5,570 cities across 27 states, with one official language (Portuguese), its media has a huge domestic market and wide-spread presence in the Lusophone world, especially in the field of television entertainment - telenovelas - in which Brazil is the world leader (Straubhaar, 2012; Sinclair and Straubhaar, 2013; Rosas-Moreno, 2014; Davis, Straubhaar and Cunha, 2016). With the growing use of digital media, circulation of such content has grown exponentially both in Brazil and abroad, as the number of people with access to information and communication technologies, especially mobile phones, has rapidly grown in the past decade.

Historically speaking, the media system in Brazil has been characterized by the predominance of a handful of very powerful commercial media groups -notably Rede Globo — which championed pro-business and pro-military causes for most of the period Brazil was under military rule (1964-1985) (Martins da Silva and Paulino, 2007; Albuquerque, 2012). In such an institutional and ideologically conservative framework, the Brazilian media system has largely failed to establish a diverse and democratic discourse in a vast and diverse, multi-racial and multicultural country, representing one of the world’s most unequal societies (Birman and Lehmann, 1999; Matos, 2008).The dynamic between media and religion is also an important component of the media system in a country where both Catholicism and evangelical Christianity have great influence in shaping public opinion, something which politicians of all ideological orientation have used for retaining or gaining power (Birman and Lehmann, 1999; Reis, 2006; Biller and Watson, 2018). After 21 years of dictatorship, when the military rule ended in 1985, Brazil adopted a multi-party political system, holding regular elections. Although electoral politics reflected social diversity, media democratization has generally lagged behind. Matos notes that democratization ‘involves a change in citizens’ understandings of, uses of and approaches to the media. Thus, demands are placed on media systems to provide better quality information, to make an increased commitment to representing political diversity and giving voice to different groups in society, and to pay greater attention to professional standards’ (Matos, 2012: 13). However, today, the political system is fragmented, with nearly 30 political parties in the Brazilian Congress and consequently Brazil has faced significant political and economic crises in recent years, reflected in anti-establishment protests (Davis and Straubhaar, 2012). From 2014, the ‘Lava Jato’ (‘CarWash’) investigation imprisoned more than 100 people for corruption, implicating important players in the government, including former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Between 2015 and 2018, President Dilma Roussef was impeached, while the Vice President Michel Temer assumed the leadership of the country (Albuquerque, 2017).

In the 2018 Presidential Elections, voters elected the far-right-wing populist politician,Jair Bolsonaro as President for four years, reflecting the new international trend towards populist and authoritarian governments (Norris and Inglehart, 2019). Right-wing groups played a fundamental role in organizing protests against Rousseff’s government and her Workers Party, and supported the impeachment process, using both social media (Nalon, 2018), as well as the country’s leading and right-wing network, TV Globo (Van Dijk, 2017). Such traditional media are also powerful political actors in a country where large private media groups support conservative governments (Matos, 2008; Porto, 2011; 2012).

Brazil’s economy is driven mainly by services, industrial production and export of goods. After a period of accumulated growth between 2001 and 2014, the economy declined by 4.5 per cent in 2015 and 3.6 per cent in 2016, generating 14.2 million unemployed (more than 13 per cent of Brazil’s population). The largest decline, in 2016, was seen in the farming sector (6.6 per cent), whereas industry declined 3.8 per cent and services 2.7 per cent.This was the deepest recession in Brazil’s history since 1948 when records to measure such economic activities began. As a result of the economic crisis, nearly 66 per cent of families were without a regular income and there were severe cuts in government expenditure, affecting social programmes such as the Bolsa Familia, cuts to public funding for research and universities. In

2017, the Brazilian GDP grew by just 1 per cent reaching $2.05 trillion (nearly 45 per cent of the GDP of Latin America).

Because of its geographical and economic importance, Brazil is considered to be Latin America’s economic engine, influencing the rest of the region, with which it shares a common colonial past. In other words, its territory did not necessarily belong to the majority of its inhabitants, with the economy based on commodities. Unlike the conventional stereotype, the region is quite urbanized, with about 80 per cent of the population living in cities, making Latin America the world’s most urbanized region. Brazil is known for huge income inequality and a considerable level of illiteracy (8.7 per cent of the population). The UN Human Development Indexes, for example, show that this is true across the region, which has a high level of income concentration. In the words of the World Economic Forum,‘although the region achieved considerable success in reducing extreme poverty over the last decade, its still-high levels of income and wealth inequality have stymied sustainable growth and social inclusion’. In other words, Latin America is still the world’s most unequal region where most of the time democracy and ideas of equality, social justice and dignity are not well understood (Matos, 2008). As the region further integrates with the rest of the world thorough trade, tourism and cultural exchange, the awareness for greater equity and democratization might grow (Matos, 2012).

After a period of relative euphoria in the first decade of the twenty-first century, the years since 2010 have been marked by a lack of hope in Brazil and other Latin American countries. The decrease in commodity' prices in key products such as oil and soy, coupled with a credit crisis with a large number of people in debt, have harmed the political system in almost all Latin American countries, especially Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, which are all important for the regional economy. These economic troubles have also revived ideologies from the past, which threaten democracy and demonstrate the vulnerability of Latin America’s fragile political systems. Over the last twelve years, for example, there have been changes in presidencies, without elections, in countries such as Honduras, Paraguay and Brazil.

Shifts in the political system have led to elected governments that reduce social spending and worsen social indexes without any prospect of improvement. In Brazil, for instance, the Michel Temer government has approved in 2016 a constitutional amendment to put a freeze on health and education spending (Phillip, 2017). In reality, that means a reduction in funding as the annual budget does not recover the annual inflation. The recent economic and political crises have reinforced the practices of patrimonialismo (patrimonialism),peKowcoronelismo (a form of persecution and protection) and caciquismo (despotism), so typical of the political practices in the region where landowners have traditionally ruled. In short, the confusion between public and private power continues in the political system of Brazil.

 
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