Power in Brazil means family business, both traditionally and to this very day. Dynasties of landowners known as “Colonels” extend their territorial claims to the airwaves, combining economic and political interests with tight control of public opinion. Neither digital technology and the rise of the internet nor occasional regulatory efforts seem to pose a serious challenge to these oligopolies. A joint investigation by the Brazilian NGO Intervozes and Reporters Without Borders between July and October 2017 now shows who are the key players and what are their respective other interests. The investigation comprises the 50 most important media outlets in Brazil and the 26 corporate groups owning them. Transparency about ownership of media companies remains low as there is no legal obligation for companies to disclose their shareholder structure. None of them answered the MOM team’s requests in this regard.
- Politicians’ families invested in the media business
Although prohibited by the Brazilian Constitution, as of today 32 federal deputies and eight senators are involved in media companies, even if they are not always formal owners of any of major media holdings. One such case is that of Vittorio Medioli, a long-time former federal deputy and now mayor Betim in the State of Minas Gerais. The group’s media businesses are managed by his wife his daughter; their Grupo Editorial Sempre Editora publishes two of Brazil’s largest circulation newspapers (Super Notícias and O Tempo), three other newspapers, an internet portal, a webTV channel and an FM radio station.
Other families engaged in the media business, such as the Câmara, Faria and Mesquita families, have also had members elected to important positions. The Macedo family, which controls the Record group and Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus evangelical church, also dominates an important political party, the Partido Republicano Brasileiro (PRB), which currently has one minister in the federal government, one senator, 24 federal deputies, 37 state deputies, 106 mayors and 1,619 councillors (local deputies).
In most cases, however, political ties with mass media are forged through network structures and commercial agreements, according to which most big national broadcasters sublicense their brand and content to local companies at the state level. These 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. This phenomenon has come to be known as "electronic Coronelism", alluding to the traditional Brazilian pattern of landownership.
One such example is the Rede Bahia group, which owns TV Bahia (affiliated with Globo Network) and the Correio da Bahia newspaper. It is controlled by the Magalhães family, which includes the current Mayor of Salvador, Antônio Carlos Magalhães Neto, and the former governor of Bahia, Senator and Minister Antônio Carlos Magalhães (deceased). Another case is that of Arnon de Mello group, which owns Gazeta Alagoas TV (affiliated with Globo Network), Gazeta de Alagoas newspaper and Gazeta 94 FM radio station. It is headed by former President and now Senator Fernando Collor de Mello. Or take the Massa Network (SBT affiliate in Paraná), owned by the presenter Carlos Massa, whose son, Ratinho Filho, was a State and Federal Deputy; or Grupo RBA de Comunicação, which owns Diário do Pará newspaper and TV Tapajós (a Globo affiliate in Pará) and is owned by Senator Jader Barbalho and his family.
- São Paulo-based media groups dominate the nation
The 50 major mass media outlets in Brazil are owned by 26 corporate groups, most of which also run other kinds of businesses. Nine are owned by the Globo group, five by the Bandeirantes group, five by Edir Macedo (counting his Record group and the media outlets of Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus, the evangelical church of which he is bishop), four by the regional RBS group, three by the Folha group, and two each by the Estado group, the Abril group and the Editorial Sempre Editore/SADA group. The remaining companies each own only one of the media outlets surveyed.
The headquarters of the vast majority of these groups (73%) are based in the metropolitan region of São Paulo. In total, 80% are located in the south and south-east of the country, which thus dominate the entire national media public. As the larger radio and television stations are organised in networks – each largely retransmitting the signal of one source. This hierarchy in ownership is also mirrored in the re-broadcast of content. At the state level, these networks often incorporate affiliates tied to local politicians, thus strengthening ties between the central power of those networks around São Paulo and the local oligarchies.
- Four TV networks share 70% of the national audience
Television is still the most-consumed type of media in Brazil, and audience concentration is high in this sector. More than 70% of the national audience is shared among four major networks (TV Globo, SBT, Record and Band), of which TV Globo alone accounts for more than half (36,9% of the total). The second-placed, SBT, attracts 14,9% of the total TV audience, and the third, Record, 14,7%.
Audience concentration is also significant in the print and online media markets, with the combined audience share of the top four media groups exceeding 50% in both segments. In the radio market, audiences are less concentrated; local dynamics matter and audiences seem to be more distributed in this segment. However, radio stations are also organised in national networks transmitting large parts of syndicated content. Of the twelve major radio networks, three belong to the Bandeirantes group and two to the Globo group.
- Cross-ownership reinforces media concentration
No mechanism is in place in Brazil to prevent the same company from controlling radio, TV, newspaper and online outlets. On the contrary, the country’s media system appears to be built on cross-ownership, which reinforces ownership concentration in the hands of a small number of groups. This applies at the national as well as at the state and local levels.
The only law that limits cross-ownership is the one regulating the pay-TV market (Law 12.485 / 2011). It prohibits companies producing audiovisual content on the one hand and radio and pay-TV companies on the other from controlling each other.
Grupo Globo, for example, plays a central role in the free-to-air TV, cable TV, internet media and radio markets and also operates in recording and publishing. Its Globo Network is the free-to-air TV market leader; content generated by its GloboSat subsidiary, (including GloboNews and dozens of other channels) leaves its mark in cable TV; its Globo.com is the largest Brazilian online news portal; and two of its radio networks, Globo AM/FM and CBN, are among the ten largest in terms of audience.
The same is true for other groups such as Record and RBS, respectively: Record group operates RecordTV and RecordNews in free-to-air TV, and its Correio do Povo newspaper and the R7 portal are among the largest in the country. RBS, for its part, runs a branch office in Rio Grande do Sul on free TV, its Zero Hora and Gaúcho Diary newspapers are among the most widely circulated and it also runs two radio networks (Gaúcha Sat national and Atlântida regional), ClicRBS online portal and many other investments in digital media as well as further printed publications.
- Media owners also engage in finance and industry – and in churches
In addition to controlling media companies, media owners in Brazil maintain private foundations providing educational services as well as commercial, private education companies. They are active in the financial sector, agribusiness, real estate, energy and health/pharma businesses. One example is the SADA/Editora Sempre group, owned by the Medioli family, who are invested in a transport company for vehicles and cargo, in logistics, the steel industry, energy, sports and education. Another, albeit minor example is Rádio Mix, controlled by proprietors of the Objetivo group, an operator of private schools and booster classes (preparatory courses for college admittance), and of the Universidade Paulista.
National radio and television networks also have business relations to churches. A major example in this regard is Record group, which is linked to the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus and to the Rede Aleluia radio. Record’s majority owner Edir Macedo at the same time controls 49% of the capital of Banco Renner.
- Lack of transparency
The media companies surveyed for MOM Brazil do not actively publicise data about their shareholder structures, and not a single one of them has responded to the MOM team’s information requests. Some claimed “strategic” or competition-related reasons for not answering.
Alternative ways of gaining access to these data are tedious and their scope is limited. There is no legal mechanism or constitutional means to enforce the disclosure of such information and even though companies are obliged by law to update information about their shareholder structure at the commercial board and notaries, there is no transparency policy and efficient access to such information that could be used to validate it. The system in place to provide data about ownership of radio and TV licences does not guaranty that data is updated nor that it is detailed enough to get down to the individual owners. As the companies, in general, do not show any initiative towards more transparency, complex corporate structures with multiple legal entities do not make things easier.