Mapping Digital Media: Brazil

by Digital Rights LAC on September 30, 2023

media

Due to the growing need to better understand the technological and cultural transformations that digitization has caused in the production and consumption of content and news, and recognizing the importance of guaranteeing access to abundant and reliable information, researchers from the Center for Technology and Society (CTS/ FGV Rio Law School) worked alongside the Open Society Foundations in a project, involving more than 50 countries, which analyzed the impacts of this process of digitization in Brazil and around the world.

Por Jhessica Reia y Antonia Azambuja*.

The 20th Century witnessed important technological and cultural transformations, which altered forms of production and consumption of content and news. As a result of an ever increasing process of digitization, media outlets are now faced with a new scenario and the need consider transforming their production processes, and even cutting back in some areas. However, not all countries came out of this digital transition in the same way, making it difficult to survey such a dynamic scenario and analyze the media of today and the media of tomorrow. As a result of the need to understand this moment and of the preponderant role that the access to abundant and reliable information must play in the establishing of democratic processes, a research and advocacy project arose, named Mapping Digital Media.

The Mapping Digital Media project is an Open Society Foundations initiative, associated with its Media Program, which brought together more than fifty countries from around the world, to analyze the processes of digitization of communication and the impacts this caused, for example, in journalism, in business models, in the spectrum allocation, in media penetration, and in the public communication system among other areas. The project, which began in 2010, amassed the support of local researchers, responsible for the elaboration of reports in their own countries. All of the reports followed the same template of questions, divided according to the methodology that was to be used, and the issues that would become chapters of the final report.

In Brazil, the researchers responsible for the report were Pedro Mizukami, Jhessica Reia and Joana Varon, who poured over the template since 2010 and took nearly four years to complete the report. During this time, many problems surfaced, among which was the shortage of data and information required to answer the proposed questions. Since all countries followed the same template, at times we questioned whether it would be possible to obtain the expected answers, seeing as how the economic and social-cultural context in Brazil is very different to that in Europe, Asia and even Latin America.

From the beginning, a problem became clear, that was also pointed out by many other researchers in the same field: the precariousness of data about the media sector in Brazil – the data is often inexistent, unavailable, locked in proprietary formats, made available in non-editable formats (we often came across documents in PDF format), outdated, shared on platforms unfriendly for users, collected and compiled by companies that charge exorbitant prices for access, etc.

In the face of this scenario of scarce information on the performance of several organizations, of service provisions, media penetration, investments, among many other issues we should discuss, we tried to guide ourselves by what was made available in previous studies that paved the way. A positive moment during this process was the passing of the Access to Information Law (Lei nº 12.527/2011) on May 16th 2012, which regulates the constitutional right to access public information. This kick-started the improvement of transparency in public institutions and of access to abundant information, despite the law still requiring more execution and implementation by the public power (more information about this, here). A lot still needs to be done, since the information that’s needed to make a more complete survey in the current media scenario in Brazil goes beyond public data and should also include data from private organizations, such as those operating public concessions.

As well as the data presented, we also chose to analyze journalism – one of the main points addressed in the report – and discuss its role in the scenario of digital transition. Largely affected by digitization, journalism is faced with several existential and technical issues. From precarious working conditions to the discussion of sustainability in investigative journalism, it is essential to reflect on its future and commitment with the diffusion of diverse and trustworthy news. The Internet yields great advantages and new possibilities, and sheds light on the (old and new) problems of the press’ role in the country.

Looking at the scenario outlined in the pages of the report (which was finalized in late 2013, but updated and released in two languages in 2014), it is possible to make out mistakes and corrections, gaps that need to be filled and where we are now with regards to digitization. The access to the Internet in Brazilian households as been increasing the past years, but there’s no denying the supremacy of television, still present in almost every home. Radio has been losing its audience levels gradually, in much the same way as printed media has been living a crisis. However, the migration to digital platforms is an increasing reality – demonstrating the transformative capacity of traditional media. At the same time, business models are branching out, and the legislation, as well as research and reflections on this phenomenon, cannot keep up with the dynamic rhythm of changes in the technology sector, the comings and goings of agents and the changins roles of intermediaries in the digital world.

Because we are dealing a dynamic scenario, which is rapidly advancing, due to the transformations in technology and business models in the media sector, it is difficult to paint a static picture of what the mapping of digital media in Brazil would look like. It was difficult to put an end to the project, considering that almost every week we saw new cases, information and the unfolding of some of the issues addressed.

Therefore, this is an ambitious project, which demands a great deal of effort to ensure collection and systemization capable of representing the moment of transition the country is undergoing (in accordance with global changes), and contribute to a decade-long debate on the role of media, its regulation and the desired media scenario in Brazil.

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*Jhessica Reia is a researcher for the CTS at FGV/Rio Law and was one of the coauthors of the book Mapping Digital Media in Brazil, and Antonia Azambuja is an intern at CTS.