Focus on Brazil: What lies ahead for public media?

13th December 2022
New leadership for Brazil may signal a massive transformation of the public media system.
Brasilia TV Tower at sunset - Brasilia, Distrito Federal, Brazil. Credit: diegograndi/istock

Public service media in Brazil has long been under scrutiny. Notably, the country’s national broadcaster Empresa Brasil de Comunicação (EBC) has faced numerous threats – from censorship, restructuring, and an undermining of its editorial independence.

Following the ousting of former President Jair Bolsonaro in the October 2022 general elections, there has been much talk about the future of EBC, with the broadcaster’s reform being one of the top priorities identified by the incoming government.

In an interview with the Public Media Alliance earlier this year, Carolina Baretto, a radio journalist with EBC, said that a Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) government may bring some improvements for the national broadcaster. While she noted that there might still be some challenges, she anticipated there being some improvements for EBC in terms of increased editorial independence and autonomy, the reinstatement of the Programming Council to discuss editorial problems, and a re-introduction of more agenda meetings and greater contact with civil society.

The incoming government already has big plans for EBC. One major touted change is to transform EBC’s TV Brasil into the “Brazilian BBC”, with more editorial independence and less state news.  This forms part of wider changes that may come to EBC, including a streaming service. But first, EBC must attain a new head.

Meanwhile, planned privatisation – one of the major threats to the national broadcaster – is also being reconsidered.

Here, we round up what may lie ahead for the embattled broadcaster.

» “Brazilian BBC” President-elect Lula reportedly intends to transform TV Brasil – one of the channels under EBC – from a “government broadcaster” and instead model it on the UK’s BBC. According to Brazil 247, Mr. Lula wants the broadcaster to clamp down on government-focused content, such as inaugurations and government activities, and instead give “space for minorities, for documentaries and investments in games programmes, aimed at young people.”

The government transition team has also recommended a review of the 2019 unification of TV Brasil and NBR (the official government broadcaster), which saw TV Brasil acting as both a public and state broadcaster by mixing journalism and entertainment programming with transmissions of federal government ceremonies.

Further, Mr. Lula is said to have noted the editorial independence of the BBC. With a 2021 budget of BRL 520 million (which is only expected to be higher in 2022), it is expected that EBC will have more than enough funds to execute this proposed change.

» Streaming service The Communication Working Group of the government transition team has put forward a proposal that may see a streaming service making its way to EBC. Mundo Conectado reports that the streaming service will largely focus on promoting Brazil’s culture, as part of a wider use of EBC as a cultural diffuser. The streaming service is touted as being useful in reinforcing audiovisual productions and national cinema, and is expected to bring attention to national productions that lack commercial appeal and success. This particular streaming service model for public media is said to have drawn inspiration from countries such as the United States, Germany, and Japan.

» New CEO under consideration Central to the proposed changes for EBC is a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to execute the new government’s vision. The current CEO, Glen Lopes Valente, was appointed under President Jair Bolsonaro and will remain in office until March 2023. A replacement is reportedly already being considered, with several names put forward. Among them are José Trajano, who created ESPN Brasil in the 1990s and transformed it into a professional management model; former Globo journalist, Cristina Serra; and Helena Chagas, a former Communication Secretary under the Dilma Rousseff government. It is expected that the new CEO will be selected based upon how well their proposed project aligns with the transition team’s own recommendations. A head to manage the broadcaster’s content and programming will be selected after a CEO is appointed.

» Privatisation to be reconsidered  In March 2021, EBC was included in the government’s privatisation list. While privatisation was supposedly aimed at freeing up about R$400 million in expenses, critics viewed the move as yet another attempt by the Bolsonaro government to bring the broadcaster to its knees and limit pluralism. By June 2021, the government said it would have EBC’s privatisation notice analysed by the Federal Court of Accounts until the end of 2022.

But the plans for privatisation may be scrapped under a Lula government, with the Communication Working Group said to be discussing the removal of EBC from the privatisation list. In an interview with Brasil de Fato, Helena Martins, a member of the WG and professor of the Social Communication Course at the Federal University of Ceará (UFC), explained that “there is an understanding of the need for a public communication company”, along with a recognised need for the strengthening of the public media system. “That being the case, it would not make the slightest sense for Brazil to go against this, even contrary to what the Constitution says in relation to the complementarity between the public, private and state systems. So, there is a strong perspective of affirming the public character of the EBC”, Ms. Martins said. The debate will continue in the working group, she added, and a final report will be delivered to the incoming government.

» EBC shift to Culture Ministry The technical groups for the transition of Culture, Communications and Social Communication are discussing the potential transferral of EBC from the Ministry of Communications to the Ministry of Culture. The move is foreseen to boost the profile of the Culture Ministry (which will be recreated under the new government); more clearly separate government communication from journalistic communication; and solidify EBC’s place as a source of culture.

Notably, the Culture Ministry was transformed into a special secretariat by President Jair Bolsonaro and placed under the Ministry of Tourism and President-elect Lula hopes to give the reformed Culture Ministry a more robust structure than it had in previous governments; EBC’s placement under the ministry is therefore seen as central to its revitalisation, Globo reports.

The transition team is also discussing the future of the Social Communication Secretariat (Secom), which is responsible for the federal government’s institutional communication and its press and publicity. Meanwhile, other reports indicate that EBC may be split across both the Culture Ministry and the Communications Ministry. The final decision on all changes is still under discussion, with the final decision resting with President-elect Lula, head of the transitional government’s communications group, Paulo Bernardo, said.

The Public Media Alliance will continue to monitor developments in Brazil. We encourage the incoming government to remain steadfast in – and deliver on – its stated commitments to public service media. In particular, the suggested plan to remove EBC from the national privatisation list is welcomed news as are improvements to its independence.

For too long, EBC’s systematic dismantling has undermined pluralism, media freedom, and the ability for the public to hold power to account. PMA maintains that an independent and effective public service broadcaster – free to report without fear and censorship – is necessary to support informed democracy.

More broadly, we further call on the incoming Lula government to address wider media freedom issues, particularly acts of violence against journalists.

Header image: Brasilia TV Tower at sunset – Brasilia, Distrito Federal, Brazil. Credit: diegograndi/istock