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Brazil Finds Remnants of Its Dictatorial Past in a Radio Show

Radio stations continue their fight to choose when to air the country’s longest-running radio show, A Voz do Brasil.

If you’re driving in Brazil on a weekday evening and want some music for your drive, you should probably pack a CD.

Chances are you’ll catch A Voz do Brasil, the country’s longest-running radio show, if you turn on the radio between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. This is because Brazilian law mandates that radio stations air the government’s news radio show at 7 p.m. every weekday, except for holidays. While much has changed in the 81 years it has been airing, the show’s mandated scheduling remains a relic of Brazil’s marred political past.

“Obliging you to listen to something you don’t want to listen to, it’s completely undemocratic,” said Luis Roberto Antonik, General Director of the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (ABERT), an organization dedicated to ensuring freedom of expression in the Brazilian media.

A Voz do Brasil, the brainchild of then-President Getúlio Vargas, first aired on July 22, 1935 under the name Programa Nacional. Vargas used the program to communicate with the masses, many of whom were living in rural areas without access to other forms of media. In 1939, under Vargas’ dictatorial Estado Novo, the show became obligatory programming for all radio stations in Brazil.

Today’s program is different; it’s more modern and informal. It features less propaganda and more hard news about what is happening in Brazil’s three branches of government. And of course, Brazilians can exercise their freedom of choice by turning off the radio, which many do. Data shows that listenership is at its lowest during A Voz do Brasil.

Still, there is growing pushback against the required time slot. A movement to allow radio stations to choose when to air the show was established in 1995. Those who support a more flexible schedule argue that not only is it undemocratic, but also that the mandate ignores the needs of listeners. An ABERT campaign claimed that “Brazilians need traffic reports on their commute home and need to know what is happening in their city in real time.”

But despite the efforts to allow more flexibility, there has been little progress. Various senators across party lines have proposed amendments only to have them stall in Congress. A 2012 vote to permanently enact an open 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. time frame was blocked by the Workers’ Party (PT). While some radio stations have been granted more flexibility by regional courts, the Supreme Court has upheld the 7 p.m. mandate.

Proponents of the show and its schedule say that it is an important part of Brazil’s national identity and that efforts to change the time it airs will eventually lead to its termination. Others consider its existence necessary because it reports on subject matter not covered by other media outlets in Brazil.

At least some in favor of keeping the mandated schedule argue that listenership is divided along class lines and that changing the schedule would negatively affect Brazil’s lower classes. In 2012, Jilmar Tatto, then head of the PT in the lower house of Congress, said “for those who don’t want to listen, put on a CD. The poor like to listen.”

Whether or not that is true is hard to confirm – socioeconomic data on listeners is not available. But studies do show the majority of listeners are in cities, not rural areas, indicating that the show’s endeavor to bring news to the far corners of the country is outdated.

If ABERT’s efforts don’t inspire change, the rise in internet use probably will. And Brazil’s internet usage is increasing at a rapid pace. More than 65 percent of the population currently has access to the internet at home, up from a mere 2.9 percent in 2000. The country also has the largest mobile internet market in Latin America. As access to the internet continues to increase, A Voz do Brasil could “die completely,” Antonik said.

The Rio Olympics last month offered renewed hope for a change. During the games, stations were able to air the program any time between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. The same will be true this month, while Rio hosts the Paralympics. Three hours is not an expansive window of time, but for the mandate’s many critics, the recent flexibility could create an opportunity for long-term changes.

ABERT is building upon the current momentum created by the modified scheduling. The organization hopes that following this summer’s events things won’t return to business as usual, like it did in 2014 when the show’s schedule was altered for the World Cup. “We are working very hard to make this permanent,” Antonik told AQ.

Arguinzoni is an editorial intern with AQ.


Tags: A Voz do Brasil; Brazil; Getúlio Vargas; internet access
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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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