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Independent Public News Media in Latin America: Why Not?

Panel 1 small edited

Monday, October 21, 2013: 9:00-10:30am.

Moderator:
Sergio Jellinek (, World Bank)

Speakers:

Gustavo Gomez (Catholic University, Montevideo)

Eugenio Bucci (University of Sao Paolo, ex Radiobras)

Nelson Breve (Empresa Brasil de Comunicacao)

Martin Becerra (, National University of Quilmes and Conicet, Argentina)

Independent Public News Media in Latin America: Why Not?

By MARIANA SANCHES

Mariana Sanches is a Brazilian journalist and political scientist, who has worked at Globo Organizations for 8 years. She is currently a student on the Master of Arts’ program in Latin American Studies ’14, at Columbia University.

“Latin America is going through several simultaneous transitions in its communication,” said Martin Becerra, from the National University of Quilmes, in Argentina. “The continent has never been concerned about public media until recently and it is just now dedicated to buildign it, while discussing new platforms and the concentration of traditional vehicles in few hands.”

Becerra’s remark was a good summary of the main question debated in the opening panel “Independent Public News Media in Latin America: Why Not?” at Columbia University’s Press Freedom, Press Standards and Democracy in Latin America Conference.

The four panelists – Martin Becerra (National University of Quilmes, Argentina), Gustavo Gomez (Catholic University, Montevideo), Eugênio Bucci (University of São Paulo, former director Radiobras) and Nelson Breve (Empresa Brasil de Comunicacao) – were talking about the creation of public media in different countries and its heterogeneous outcomes.

Gustavo Gomes began the debate by stressing that there is no multiple information system without a strong public media.   Eugênio Bucci agreed but pointed out some dangerous aspects concerning public media.

According to Bucci, the biggest problem facing public media in Latin America is such media’s political intentions. “Public communication is not propaganda. Getting informed is a fundamental right of the citizens,” argued Bucci. “Partisan use of public media is an appropriation of public resource with private goals.”

Bucci expressed concerns about certain Latin American governments, namely Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador. The latter was included in a Freedom House report about Freedom of the Press in 2013 as one of the worst countries to work in for journalism because of the intense interference of the government in the news.

Becerra challenged Bucci’s position saying that governments had created public media in the last few years as an answer to the strong opposition made by traditional press. Becerra stated that former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva initiated the design of the Empresa Brasil de Comunicação to counter the strong editorialized coverage that Globo Organizations produced.

Nelson Breve, editor-chief of Empresa Brasil de Comunicação, called Bucci’s point of view utopic and said that in a world where the traditional media is not impartial, the public media can defend government actions as a way to better inform the citizens. Moreover, Breve argued that the Brazilian Constitution foresees the existence of public and state media, which would allow the government to use public money to talk about its own actions and qualities. There was no consensus about the topic, although all agreed it is a vital issue in the region.

The panelists seemed very skeptical about the way the digitalization of communication can democratize the media. The digitalization process, already finished in the U.S., is now taking place in South America. Although, as Gomes pointed out, digital media creates infinite possibilities and channels and is a great opportunity to involve new actors in communication, it is necessary to create fair and transparent mechanisms to access this technology.

According to Bucci and Breve, at least in Brazil, the process is not going as well as it was expected. “It seems a transition of superpowers from some companies, like traditional TVs, to telecommunications companies. It does not mean that we will diversify the source of information”, said Nelson Breve.

Bucci also called attention to the fact that government is engaging in more and more advertising.  The government has been buying a lot of space in traditional media, making it dependent on public money, which can put the independence of the news at risk. In his words, we are watching an emergency in the state of advertising.

Finally Bucci stated that governors are elected to govern, not to edit the public opinion – this is the journalist’s job. This could be a basic statement for any democratic regime but reminds us that communication and politics are inseparable faces of power in Latin America.

Here are links to reports, websites, presentations or any other supplemental material the speakers felt would give audience members a greater understanding of the discussion.

Nelson Breve:

Independent Public News Media in Latin America: Why Not?

 

*Sergio Jellinek & Martin Becerra worked together on the book Cajas Majicas.