When we talk about TV in Brazil, we mean something big, really big. Television has ultra high penetration and influence in this country — 98% of the population watches it at least once in the week (anatel). And soon this household electronic unit will be the central icon in the national mobilization of attention to the World Cup games in Germany. As the Brazilian soccer team fights in the German fields in June to maintain global sovereignty most of the population will be glued to the TV. This is the context in which the debate about the digital TV implementation is arriving and the open network is again holding the most productive exchange of ideas and arguments on the issue.
In Brazil, the premier soccer country, when one wants to be clear and direct, it is common to use sports metaphors and analogies. That's why Mr. Helio Costa, Brazil's Minister for Communications, in a public appearance in the Chamber of Representatives in late January, “kicked off” the governmental decision process on the transition to digital TV using the best verbal resources at hand:
“I placed the ball on the penalty mark for the President. He can kick the ball strongly and score a ‘plate goal’ (a goal that deserves a memorial plate), or he can shoot softly and still score, or he can shoot out and miss the goal.”
Min. Hélio Costa – Digital TV audience in the Camara dos Deputados – in Pênalti Digital – Blog Silepse
The minister, who was previously a famous TV reporter of a big broadcast network, was very pedagogical in laying out the available choices. To implement digital TV we have to choose between the three available standards: the Japanese (ISDB), the European (DVB) and the American (ATSC). It seemed necessary that decisions on the digital TV transition be quickly taken because 2006 is not only the year of the World Cup but also the year of the Brazilian presidential election where TV plays a huge role.
“With an eye on his own immediate political support, President Lula da Silva is being directly pressed by the Globo Organizations (Brazil's largest mainstream network) to immediately choose the business model and the technological specifications that will define the ‘Brazilian’ radio and TV digital system to be adopted in the country.”
The interests, and the political, economic and technological dilemmas of digital radio and tv in Brazil – Total Alert – Blog
“There are reasons to believe that this hasty decision is a disaster. First, it will be taken based on pressures and lobbies — without a wide debate in the society and without the adoption of measures to benefit the public interest. Second, the decision will come without the needed legal structure to rule the new situation and it will infringe the archaic regulation (or absence of regulation) that reigns in the broadcasting area. Third, it will not explore the results of research coordinated by the Center of Research and Development in Telecommunications (CPqD) and carried out by teams of about 80 universities and research institutes throughout Brazil.”
Digital TV: do not kick cause it is goal against, Mr. President! – We Won't Pay For Nothing – Blog
The blogosphere managed to widen the debate, which was at first restricted to the technological discussions so unfriendly to the larger public. It was necessary to identify and to understand the broader issue — the new opportunities that would become available as a result of the new technology standards, and also discover who are the real players in this decision, and which interests are at stake.
“In rare occasions the reports on the issue touch the main question: will the digitalization of TV bring the possibility of optimizing the use of the electromagnetic spectrum for broadcasting? Depending on the decisions taken now by the government, we may be able to have many more TV channels in a near future. This is the real opportunity to diminish the property concentration in the media sector. Today, only six private national networks dominate the market of TV in Brazil.”
Digital TV: what big media don't tell – FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) - Blog
“The TV networks are pressing the government for the Japanese standard (ISDB). This model privileges the high definition and allows the cell phones to catch the signals directly from TV antennas, bypassing the telephone infrastructure. This guarantees that the TV nets maintain the monopoly of transmission.
Digital TV – Nomad Thinking – Blog
President Lula understood the message. He saw that the subject was much more complex and important than his minister's initial speech indicated, and he invited more players to the debate. In March, the talks revolved around special credit lines offered by Japanese and European banks and the possibility of the installation of a computer chip plant in Brazil. This started to redefine the decision process. In a recent visit of Brazilian officials to Japan, it looked like the final decision was near. A “memorandum of intentions” was signed for joint Brazilian-Japanese work on the digital TV system. But now the Japanese victory is not certain as Lula's scheduled visit to Europe in May already mentions a meeting in Vienna about the issue.
“The EFE agency reported that the Japanese government was not happy with the ‘memorandum of intentions’. The Japanese press published articles mentioning the frustration with the text of the document, in which Brazil expresses only its “strong desire” to adopt the Japanese digital TV format, but doesn't affirm the adoption. Japan had the hope that the Brazilian Government would announce the final decision for the Japanese digital TV standard during the visit.”
Digital TV – Japanese are frustrated with the signed memorandum – Circuito – Blog
“The powerful lobbies of European companies interested in implementing the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) in Brazil are waving the possibility of heavily investing in Lula's electoral campaign. The French and Italians are ready to do anything in order to win the race with the Japanese for the definition of the Brazilian digital TV model and others also are waving the possibility of generous “electoral investments”.
European and Japanese lobbies on digital radio and tv are waving with help for Lula's campaign – Total Alert – Blog
In the middle of all this, the Brazilian Minister of Culture, Mr. Gilberto Gil, world famous singer and also known for his open defense of free software and the free access to culture and knowledge, keeps affirming that, ‘content is what matters‘. Recently, while leading an inaugural class in a university in Rio de Janeiro, he inadvertently created a conflict with his colleague Mr. Costa by giving an example of popular manifestations against the government's conduct in the process of transition to digital TV. Illustrating the diverse content of democratic debate, Mr. Gil chanted a ‘cordel‘ (a kind of traditional Brazilian rap) which among others things called Mr. Helio Costa an ‘ idiot entrepreneur ‘ who bets at the maintenance of the ‘private monopoly’, with a ‘ bullshit conversation’. The bloggers would not miss that:
“Amongst the creative reactions to the dictatorship in the media, in politics and in the economy, the ‘cordel’ of the Digital TV (in text, audio and video) is worthy of wide distribution for the people in general, in order to explain in a playful and simple form a subject of great complexity and relevance, allowing its comprehensibility to the 74 % of illiterates and half-illiterates in our language, as well as to the 20% of our political illiterates that are fully aware of the Portuguese language possibilities.”
SBTVD: The best from Brazil is the Brazilian!!! – Maddening of a Computologist – Blog
“The coalition of forces in government has shown to be ambiguous. The post of minister for communications has been, since the beginning of Lula's mandate, a currency of exchange with parties of the allied base… Last week the Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil, in an inaugural class in a university in Rio de Janeiro, read a ‘cordel’ from the journalist Luciana Rabelo which stresses the importance of an ample debate with society and attacks Hélio Costa.”
Digital TV – Between the democratization of communications and the maintenance of media concentration – Open Veins – Blog
“The Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil, clarifies that the text ‘Brazilians, attention! – the Digital TV ‘cordel’‘ — which he read yesterday (March 29), during the inaugural class of the Social Communication Faculty at UFRJ — does not express his opinion in the governmental debate on Digital TV. In the lesson's context, the Minister of Culture was talking about democracy and the need of the government to deal with critics in a good way, pointing to the text as an example of the diverse forms expressed from the society in a democratic state.”
Note of Clarification – Ministry of Culture – Brazil
The debate on the digital TV transition is attracting more participants every day. An Orkut community has launched a stamp (image aside: ‘I want to debate the digital TV‘) that is spreading through Brazilian sites and blogs. The new audiences already perceived that the rushed decision only benefited the ones in a rush. It is also clear that the decision on the technological model, even though very important, is only the first step toward a much wider and deeper reform which will demand the mobilization of many sectors of the society. This is a debate about the fundamental difference between the private and the public spheres in the Information Age and it is earning more visibility each day thanks to the Internet.
“The maintenance of the status quo of the media oligopoly that controls communications in Brazil is NOT guaranteed with the ‘simple’ choice of the ISDB as the modulation standard for the open digital TV in Brazil. But once the choice is made, we cannot allow the following step (the beginning of the test transmissions) without guaranteeing the approval of a General Law of Communications… The main thing needed now is a social debate on what is really involved in the digital TV issue. We've got to denounce in case the government comes to choose the ISDB officially as modulation standard of the Brazilian digital TV. We've got to hinder any attempt to create consummated facts… We've got to have a law, voted by the people representatives, defining what can and what cannot be made in this new media that is now being inaugurated. Therefore, we are far from the end of this war, with or without ISDB.”
The digital TV consummated fact – Gustavo Gindre – Hacking Catatau
What will be the future digital ecology of Brazil? We will be following closely the debates on this core Information Age issue. Stay tuned.