PMA welcomes the creation of Ouvidoria Cidadã as a positive step towards more accountable and independent public media in Brazil.  

Brazilian broadcaster Empresa Brasil de Comunicação (EBC) has undergone significant change in recent years: from the removal of its Curator Council to the limiting of its editorial autonomy, EBC is an unfortunate example of a government dismantling public media and transforming it into a mouthpiece of the state.

But now a new initiative – dubbed Ouvidoria Cidadã (“citizens’ ombudsman”) – is pushing back against the broadcaster’s ruin by highlighting content published and syndicated by EBC “from a perspective centred on the principles of public broadcasting”. The initiative is a product of Frente em Defesa da EBC e da Comunicação Pública(The Front for the Defence of EBC and Public Broadcasting).

“The Ouvidoria Cidadã can play an invaluable role observing, documenting, denouncing, and exerting pressure as part of its dialogue with society about how EBC is being politically used today as well as where EBC’s project is headed,” former Chair of EBC’s Curator Council, Rita Freire explained in a release. Freire is a member of the organisation, along with academic groups, journalists, social entities for the protection of democratic media, researchers, and individuals like EBC’s first ombudsman-general, Professor Laurindo Leal Filho. Ouvidoria Cidadã’s primary goal is to function as a democratic safeguard for public investment in communication which benefits public interests instead of those of the government.

EBC’s Ouvidoria Cidadã will publish regular reports comprised of reviews on stories, content, and statements and will specifically identify broadcasts and publications which do not comply with principles stipulated by law. The reports will also highlight content which promote the public debate of ideas and the circulation of information founded on international good practices in public broadcasting. Ouvidoria Cidadã published its first report as ombudsman on 16 December 2020.

Read more: EBC Citizen Ombudsman: Independent analysis of the contents served by Empresa Brasil de Comunicação (Portuguese)

The report has revealed several shortcomings, including the use of EBC’s TV Brasil for pro-President Jair Bolsonaro propaganda; the publication of controversial information on COVID-19 treatment to align with Bolsonaro’s views; a blacklist of specific topics for social media accounts; and the broadcast of statements that encouraged the subversion of public media as tools for government publicity.

The Public Media Alliance highly commends this new project and the initiative taken by Ouvidoria Cidadã to reinstate accountable public media institutions. Effective public media can underpin informed democracy by giving citizens access to quality and accurate information – institutions that are much needed, especially now during a global pandemic.

Header Image: Panoramic view from TV tower in Brasilia. Credit: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo/Creative Commons