Landownership on air
Brazil has a significant number of politicians who own or hold shares in media outlets. In the National Congress, for instance, 32 federal Deputies and 8 Senators of the current legislature own broadcast stations.
Amongst the biggest national television channels, radio stations and newspaper, the sample researched by MOM, few media outlets have occupants of a public office as their owners. But that does not translate into the absence of such relations. On the contrary, they are pretty close and constitute one of the central characteristics of Brazilian Media.
For example, the Record Group, one of the country’s biggest, is controlled by Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, a religious entity behind not only one politician but an entire party: Partido Republicano Brasileiro (‘Brazilian Republican Party’ - PRB). The party occupies a ministry in the current government, accounts for a senator, 24 Deputies, 37 state Deputies, 106 Mayors and 1.619 city Councilmen. Such relation extends to the group’s vehicles such as Record TV and R7 Portal.
The Silvio Santos Group, owner of free TV Network SBT, does not have politicians among its shareholders, but has affiliations of another nature. Patrícia Abravanel, daughter of the group’s owner, Sílvio Santos, and TV host, is married to Fábio Salustino de Mesquita Faria (Social Democratic Party – PSD/RN), a federal Deputy.
The Bandeirantes Group, operating radio and TV Networks of the same name, was originated from a relationship of its leading figure, João Jorge Saad, with former governor of São Paulo Adhemar de Barros (PRP/PSP). Barros was Saad’s father-in-law and awarded the first concession to him already in 1948.
Globo Network, although not having politicians among its shareholders or with familiar ties to them, has always kept strong political affiliations. Its founder Roberto Marinho kept close relations with almost all presidential and state governments. His direct influence is associated with the political changes that led to former president Getúlio Vargas’ fall, in 1945, to his suicide, in 1954, and in the Civil-Military Coup, in 1964.
In 1965, Marinho started having even more influential power with the creation of Globo TV. During the first civil Federal Government, in 1985, he promoted José Sarney’s the politician Antônio Carlos Magalhães to be appointed Minister of Communications, who would later become his commercial partner in Bahia. After that, the former-president Sarney became himself Marinho’s business partner with a Globo's TV affiliate in Maranhão. The group is still influent, it became visible during recent political events, such as the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff.
Regarding Public TV Network, governed by Empresa Brasil de Comunicação (EBC), it is also reasonable to state relevant political affiliation, which are not about a type of control based on property, but on the supply of public resources through political appointments of EBC’s Director General and Board of Directors. As it was revealed by MOM’s research, the alignment of EBC with the government is not only determined by the choice of its main director, but also in the editorial line of all of its outlets.
Political relations in the affiliated networks
In most cases, however, political ties with mass media are forged through networks structures and commercial agreements, according to which most big national broadcasters sublicense their brand and content to local companies at the state level. This affiliates then serve as re-broadcasters, but more importantly offer a vehicle for co-ownership by local strongmen (very rarely strongwomen). In several states, the big networks' affiliates are controlled by regional stakeholders representing either politicians directly or families with a political tradition, which are usually invested in more than one media sector.
Still, if Networks are considered, a second and relevant group is formed by the affiliates. They are controlled in several states by regional groups led by politicians or families of political tradition and in general have property over more than one vehicle (TV and Radio, TV and Newspaper, or all three). A phenomenon that started being called, in academies and in public debate, “electronic coronelismo”, addressed by researcher Suzy dos Santos in several works, amongst which the book “Sempre foi pela família” (‘It’s always been about the family’, 2017), in partnership with Janaína Aires.
It is the example of Bahia Network (that owns Bahia TV, Globo Network’s affiliate, and the Correio da Bahia newspaper), controlled by Magalhães family (integrated by the current mayor of Salvador, Antônio Carlos Magalhães Neto, and that had as its main character former senator Antônio Carlos Magalhães); Arnon de Mello Organizations (that own Gazeta Alagoas TV, a Globo Network’s affiliate, the Gazeta de Alagoas Newspaper and Gazeta 94 FM Radio), directed by former president and senator Fernando Collor de Mello; Massa Network (a SBT affiliate in Paraná), of TV host Carlos Massa whose son, Ratinho Filho, was a estate and federal deputy.
Transamérica Rádio Network has among its affiliates stations managed by Caracaraí Communication Group, controlled by Geilda Cavalcanti, senator Mozarildo Cavalcanti’s wife (PTB/RR). The affiliates in Erechim (RS) are controlled by former councilman Élio Spanhol (PT).
Once many of these groups control several vehicles, the political affiliation is not limited to stations affiliated to national TV or Radio Networks. Beyond the biggest national vehicles researched by MOM, several other radios, newspapers and portals are owned by politicians and their families, a complex scenario that could not be approached throughout this research.
In some regions, like the aforementioned Bahia Network and Arnon de Mello Organizations, families control media for many decades. However, other politicians who did not participate in the communication market, started controlling vehicles after being prized with permits for some political favor.
This phenomenon occurred, for instance, during the approval of 1988’s Federal Constitution. The researcher Paulino Motter showed on his master’s degree dissertation “A batalha invisível da Constituinte” (‘The Constituent’s Invisible Battle’) that then-minister of communications, Antônio Carlos Magalhães (he himlself owner of Bahia Network), distributed 1.028 licenses in his tenure (1985-1989), 25% of them only in the month prior to the Constituent’s approval. The aim was to make sure that then-president José Sarney’s tenure (who also controlled media in his home state of Maranhão) was extended from four to five years, a proposal that was eventually accepted .
Otávio Pieranti, in the article “Políticas para a Mídia: dos militares ao governo Lula” (‘Politics for the Media: from the military to Lula’s government’ - Revista Lua Nova, 2006), reports that on the eve of the amendment that allowed the re-election of Fernando Henrique Cardosobeing approved in 1998 for the 1999-2002 tenure, the Minister of Communications distributed 1.848 TV relay stations, being 268 to foundations or companies controlled by 87 politicians.
The researchers Venício Lima and Cristiano Aguiar Lopes, in the article Coronelismo Eletrônico de Novo Tipo (1999-2004), released in 2007, analyzed 2.205 community radios (short range modality), 80% of stations authorized up to that year, and concluded that there was political connection in half of them (1.106).
The opposite process also occurs. Media owners run for public offices, enjoying the influence they have because of their vehicles. A recent research showed that in the 2016 elections, 216 local radio stations controllers ran for mayor and 94 were elected in the ballots.
Media ownership by politicians is questioned by civil society. Intervozes launched the campaign “Fora Coronéis da Mídia” (‘Out with the media Colonels’) in which this practice is denounced. As part of the mobilization, the entity developed ADPF 246 (Lawsuit against Noncompliance of Fundamental Precept), protocoled by PSOL, that is being processed along with ADPF 379. The lawsuit demands that STF declares as unconstitutional that federal deputies and senators own radio and TV stations. Article 54 of constitution determines that, since induction, these parliamentarians can not “own, control or direct a company that enjoys a favor resulting of a contract with a juridical person of public right, or take part in any remunerated function”.