Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Today is a good day, if only because I finally slept for ten hours after flying twenty-two hours into Brasilia. This morning I reconnected to the internet and was able to do my digital homework, answering e-mails and sending information to those I am going to meet in the coming weeks. Thank god for the digital era. In my lifetime travelling to Brazil often meant months long preparations, visa issues, travellers cheques sown into parts of your clothing and weeks of non-communication with home. 

Written by Free Press Unlimited director Leon Willems in Brazil

Child pornography and sexual violence are like nuclear bombs
The morning panel once again examines the problem between regulation for children’s media and censorship. The speakers investigate minutely the problem between regulation and freedom of expression. Child pornography and sexual violence are the nuclear bombs that speakers use to make the case for some regulation of potentially damaging media content. Why is it such a big deal to get the media industry to conform to simple standards related to children and media that are paramount and easy around the world?

Is regulation a frontal attack on press freedom?
Over lunch a Brazilian expert explains to me the background. Media Tycoons styled after Berlusconi dominate the media industry in Brazil and Latin America. Regulation of media, for example warning parents with simple symbols that programme content is not suitable for certain ages does not exist here. And many distrust the left tending governments in Latin America when they want to impose such regulation on the media industry. This is portrayed as a frontal attack on press freedom by media owners. Others at the lunch table confide that the powers of the media can make and break politicians. So no politician wants to risk losing the support of media that are instrumental to re-election. It seems that there is a deep rift in the socio-political fabric of society.

Why would media not just produce programs that address children?
If you ask children what they like and do not like to see or hear in their media consumption, all research shows that children ask for tailor made programming that addresses them. That they want to use media to learn about the world around them and need positive role models. Then why would media not produce such content? After all, the Children are watching with their parents and how big is the percentage of potential audiences that are composed by young people and their parents. But in a politically stagnated situation, a professional debate on the benefits to society of media and to tailor media to audience needs seems impossible. And hence the discussion lingers on.

Both governments and private media lack courage
There is lack of “civil courage” at the side of the governments to use the leverage of media licensing in order to serve the higher purpose of media to be inclusive of the population it serves. Of course many governments in Latin America lack credibility due to the propaganda based semi-public media they instigated to further their political agenda, following the model of the late president Chavez in Venezuela. And at the same time there is lack of “entrepreneurial creativity” in the private media industry to develop new and provocative formats for children that cater for their needs and serve community learning and development. So the over-dominant television industry refuses to be present here and discuss their programming strategies. They want to bank on the safe mix of sports, trash entertainment and soap opera that is a cash cow for media owners.

Governments should not become tycoons, but set benchmarks.
Of course, as anywhere around the world, the internet then becomes a safe haven for citizens in order to voice their demands and needs and they use their own networks. This scares the shit out of governments and industry alike. And children’s rights groups join the choir. Everybody wants to control the internet. An unholy alliance of parties aiming to control the population’s freedom of expression on the internet. Why not promote positive action? Create impact programming that audiences like. The media industry is supposed to be a creative industry, not a soda-masochistic herd of cynical cashiers. And governments should set benchmarks for independent media. Not become media tycoons themselves. That will generate audiences that no one can deny. The future is to those who understand that the development of human kind is one of citizens slowly freeing themselves of the shackles by those that want to control their freedom.

People will reward you for for your courage!
But you cannot talk about that when the media industry does not take part and everybody is staring in the face of protracted policy. See there the lack of progress in the development of `Latin America: there is progress on almost all development parameters except in access to information and media development. My revolutionary pragmatism would vote for a more positive approach. Build good and innovative programming that serves the population and allow for access and talk back to audiences. Audiences will pay you back with their undivided attention. Give incentives to good programming, you government officials now inundated in prolonged policy debates that go nowhere. People will reward you for it. And civil society should build audience coalitions that use consumer strikes against unwilling industry.

Lack of revolutionary pragmatism in my view rules these debates. ACT, Now