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Brazil: Between democracy and doubt

Since January’s World Social Forum in Belém, where alternative media were heralded for bringing progressive and pluralistic information to the fore, online independent initiatives have been flourishing in Brazil. Alongside well-established community media, the Independent Media Center has collectives based throughout major Brazilian cities, Web 2.0 hosts countless blogs, alternative news websites [pt], forums and interfaces, and cyberactivism [pt] is quickly taking shape.

These examples are fortifying themselves through city- and state-level meetings with civil society organisations and academics in preparation for Brazil’s first National Conference of Communication in December. Entitled ‘Communications: a Means for Building Rights and Citizenship in the Digital Era’, it signals a very first step in democratising Brazil’s communications system.

But in spite of alternative sectors showing democratic trends, Brazilian media are famously epitomised by high concentration within the hands of under ten families. Unsurprisingly, then, the players in the fight for media democratisation have numerous proposals, including strengthening Brazil’s public service broadcasting, fine-tuning the elusive regulatory framework, expanding former Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil’s programme of digital inclusion and investing more in alternative and community sectors.

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The blogosphere remains divided into which proposal is the most important. Several feminist blogs, for instance, remind us that regulation, monitoring and reviewing the press law are all fundamental. These may also fall under the umbrella of social control, which, for blogger Alessandra Terribili,

É garantir que eles não podem dizer o que querem, reforçar esteriótipos, legitimar preconceitos, seduzir pelo consumo, informar pela metade, esconder uma parte… não podem fazer isso impunemente.

“Is to ensure that they [private businesses funding media organisations] can not say what they want to reinforce stereotypes, prejudices legitimate, seduced by consumer report by half, hiding a part … we cannot do this with impunity.”

But for cyber-activist site Trezentos [pt], digital inclusion remains paramount. Their proposals go beyond expanding broadband and connectivity infrastructure across Brazil to also stressing the digital rights of citizens:

“Todos os brasileiros têm o direito ao acesso à Internet sem distinção de renda, classe, credo, raça, cor, opção sexual, sem discriminação física ou cultural […] Todo cidadão tem direito de acessar informações públicas em sites da Internet sem discriminação de sistema operacional, navegador ou plataforma computacional utilizada. Toda pessoa tem o direito a escrever em blogs e participar de redes sociais com seu nome, com codinome ou anonimamente.”

“Brazilians have the right to access the Internet regardless of income, class, creed, race, color, sexual orientation, no physical or cultural discrimination […] Every citizen has the right to access public information on Internet sites without regard to operating system, browser or computer platform used. Everyone has the right to write on blogs and social networking with your name, code name or anonymously.”

How far these proposals will come into effect, given 2010’s presidential election, is debatable. Further, communication is not widely recognised a human right, and alternative vehicles are seldom collectively mobilised. Brazil’s gradual digital inclusion of 34% of the country having Internet access, with only 5% benefiting from broadband, also stands in stark contrast to the 98% of the population watching television. However counter-hegemonic the fight to democratise communication is, it is ultimately overshadowed by the monopolistic mainstream.

Whilst the conference may see more public involvement in policy-making and a more joint, active role played by alternative media players and civil society actors, both Brazilian media and democracy are fragile and ongoing. But it is of the essence that they strengthen together: for blogger Pablo Pedroso [pt]

“Parte do esforço para a profunda transformação socioeconômica do Brasil, passa pela democratização dos meios de comunicação.”

“Part of the effort for the deep socio-economic transformation of Brazil is the democratisation of the media.”

Therefore, the Conference is just the first step in the long ‘ant-work’ Brazil faces in its democratic development. We will simply have to wait and see how much converging technologies result in converging interests.

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