By Bill Hinchberger Bill Hinchberger is a journalist based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He is associate editor of the reference book Third World Guide, 1991-1992. SAO PAULO, BRAZIL--Every evening over 50 million Brazilians tune in to what many critics call the greatest threat to the country's fledgling democracy. All eyes are glued to TV Globo, a monolithic television network that some believe is capable of turning fiction into reality. Given its penetration into 99 percent of Brazil's continent-sized territory and its 70 percent audience share in a country of 150 million (where a quarter of the population is illiterate and millions more are semi- literate), the assertion has a strong foundation. But statistics fail to illustrate the reach of Globo's tentacles into the Brazilian psyche. Consider, instead, a pair of shootings--one real, one fictional--which coincidentally occurred during the same period in late 1988. While people throughout the rest of the world called for a prompt and thorough investigation of the assassination of Amazon labor leader Chico Mendes, Brazilians were sidelined by a version of "Who shot J.R.?"--as a villainous character in a Globo soap opera fell victim to an unknown gunslinger. In Brazil, the fictional murder overshadowed the real one. Another dramatic example shows how quickly and directly Globo can affect the Brazilian market. When the star of the top- ranking novela, as Brazil's evening soap operas are called, observed off-handedly, "I don't like the color purple," sales for purple clothing suddenly plummeted. Responding to complaints from boutiques, scriptwriters were forced to have the character change her mind in a subsequent episode. TV Globo's power is immense. It is the world's fourth largest commercial television network, ranking behind only the three U.S. giants. The network raked in record advertising sales domestically in 1989, reportedly between $500 million and $600 million. It has 78 stations throughout Brazil. Company officials say that Globo has 8,000 employees. And in 1985 The Christian Science Monitor reported that its activities generated some 35,000 jobs. The network's programs are shown in 112 countries, including the United States (on Spanish language stations) and China. Unsatisfied with its virtual monopoly over Brazil's audience, Globo has taken steps to exert more direct control over its competition. In February 1990, it reached an agreement with TV Gazeta in Sao Paulo, giving control over the rights to a wide range of films and mini-series to the smaller Gazeta. Officials with the second-ranking national network, the Brazilian Television System (SBT), say that Globo's move was designed to counter SBTs efforts to boost it's ratings in Sao Paulo, South America's largest city. Similarly, in 1989, according to Luiz Fernando Santoro, professor of communications at the University of Sao Paulo, Globo bought up the broadcasting rights to Brazilian soccer matches "so that nobody else would get them" and promptly resold them to another network, TV Bandeirantes. Additionally, Globo has made repeated efforts to purchase a chunk of the Manchete Network, the country's third largest. Launched by the Time-Life Group in the early 1960s, Globo was nurtured under the protective wing of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, and kowtowed to the regime enough to earn the nickname "the Ministry of Information." The network remains a steadfastly conservative force in Brazilian politics, having played a leading role in efforts to stem the tide of the country's redemocratization process. Defeated in its attempt to prolong the dictatorship, the network eventually embraced democracy, only to enlist in the well-orchestrated and successful campaign in support of rightwing populist Fernando Collor de Mello's successful 1989 presidential candidacy. The network's news department has been involved in a series of well-documented attempts to distort facts. On the eve of the 1989 presidential runoff, for example, Globo presented an edited version of the final candidates' debate, which even a top Globo executive admitted highlighted the worst moments of the event for Collor's opponent, leftist Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva of the Workers Party (PT). Lula charged: "They were playing their last hand when we had no time to react." The power behind the camera Globo is controlled by one 85-year-old man, Roberto Marinho, whom many consider to be the most powerful person in Brazil. Globo's sole owner, he keeps a tight rein on his news department. The British news magazine The Economist once called him a "one-man conglomerate." Besides the television network, Marinho runs the daily newspaper O Globo, the country's largest privately-owned radio network, a record company and a publishing firm, as well as companies in such diverse areas as telecommunications, electronics, real estate, agriculture, insurance and banking. Overall, his empire includes more than three dozen companies operating worldwide, from Europe to Suriname to Cuba. Many of Marinho's business initiatives have required official acquiescence or assistance, and over the years he has developed a symbiotic relationship with successive governments. Beginning with the military regime and continuing through the first civilian government under Jose Sarney, Marinho helped choose a slew of ministers, particularly in the areas of communications and education (the minister of education determines funding for the educational projects of the Roberto Marinho Foundation), according to researchers and Globo insiders. While such influence is difficult to document, Marinho himself recounted the role he played in choosing one of Sarney's economic ministers in a May 1990 interview with the daily O Estado de Sao Paulo. Other examples of Marinho's coziness with top ranking officials are better-known. When veteran politician Antonio Carlos Magalhaes assumed leadership of the Ministry of Communications under Sarney, Marinho promptly transferred the lucrative Globo affiliation contract to the television station the minister owned in his home state of Bahia. Coincidentally or not, Magalhaes' ministry later facilitated Marinho's acquisition of controlling interest in the Brazilian subsidiary of the Japanese telecommunications company, NEC. The latter deal is now the subject of a congressional investigation. Globo's relationship with the Collor administration is more complex. The Collor family owns the Globo affiliate in the president's home state of Alagoas, and Collor's brother Leopoldo rose to become regional director for TV Globo in Sao Paulo-only to be fired by Marinho. According to some reports, when Collor was elected governor of the minuscule and otherwise unimportant Alagoas in 1986, the Globo news department assigned a reporter to cover his administration and ensure that his image was projected nationally at least twice a week. Candidate Collor sought Marinho's support early on and received an initial blessing in the form of favorable coverage, helping mold his image as a reformist. Before the first electoral round, Marinho had already openly endorsed Collor. This seemed to be business as usual. So it comes as some surprise that Globo insiders and observers agree that Marinho is now "afraid" of Collor. According to Santoro, who in 1987-88 worked at the Roberto Marinho Foundation, Collor "knows [TV Globo] has to be controlled." Santoro says Colloris "developing a series of policies to control TV Globo, without entering into conflict." He points to Collor's selection of Carlos Chiarelli as education minister as an example of Marinho's new-found distance from the center of power. Not only does it appear that Marinho was not consulted, but Collor chose a man who, as a member of the Brazilian Congress in 1988, led an attempt to open an inquiry into Marinho's activities. Santoro, like many others, believes that Marinho has enough skeletons in his closet to seriously threaten his empire should the government decide to stop looking the other way. "Collor de Mello has TV Globo in his hand without giving much in return," says Santoro, noting that the network, like most of the Brazilian media, has continued to support the president. "He must be saying to Roberto Marinho, 'I won't sponsor a congressional inquiry, and I'll let you die in peace."' Globo's growth Marinho's career as a media mogul began when, at the age of 21, he inherited the Rio de Janeiro daily newspaper O Globo from his father a month after it had opened. Later, he used that newspaper to declare his initial support for the 1964 military coup. Already on an ideological wavelength similar to the dictatorship, Marinho's plans to create a media empire dovetailed nicely with the military regime's plans for "national integration." The Globo television network began in 1961, as documented in Daniel Herz's book The Secret History of the Globo Network. That was when Marinho and Time-Life negotiated a contract which many claim violated Brazilian constitutional regulations regarding ownership and investment in the media by foreigners. Signed in 1962 and carried out as of 1964, the contract created a joint venture, with direct investment by the U.S. multinational. (Herz says Time-Life invested more than $6 million between 1962 and 1966; in interviews with the Brazilian press, Marinho has admitted to receiving $4 million, which he claims was later repaid.) Time-Life also provided technical assistance, training and personnel in the areas of television technology, engineering, administration and commercial activities. Among the personnel was Joe Wallach, who left KOGO-TV in California and, without speaking a word of Portuguese, became Globo's executive director. The U.S. connection went a step further, according to Santoro, who recounts how the nascent enterprise was given an additional boost by Time-Life's lobbying of Brazilian advertising agencies, almost all of which were branches of U.S. multinationals. Aided from abroad by Time-Life and at home by a military regime anxious to invest in telecommunications, Globo soon overtook what had been the dominant network since the birth of Brazilian television in 1950, TV Tupi. Already buying up stations across the country, Globo was the first to take advantage of satellite broadcasting made possible by the government in 1968. Globo's distinctiveness and popularity stem from its own programming style, known as the Global Standard, which the Brazilian public has adopted as its own and which outpaces the competition's technical capabilities. Today, the network produces an astonishing 80 percent of its programming. Aided by its own extensive market research and public-preference polls, the network has proficiently blended high-quality technical production, comparable to U.S. standards, with a style and content that appeals to Brazilians--"full of frills, attention- getters and presentation," as Santoro puts it. Despite the criticism of Globo's hegemony, however, most Brazilians are comfortable with Globo. Study results included in a network promotional packet reveal that 55 percent of those interviewed consider Globo the television network "most connected to the community." It is a video version of McDonald's. The power of the camera The flagships of Globo's programming are its novelas, part soap opera, part mini-series. Two separate novelas are sandwiched around the 8 p.m. network news (guaranteeing, incidentally, the latter's audience), each running six nights a week for three or four months. They are fast-paced, but lack most of the melodrama of American soaps and the violence of many U.S. evening programs. Instead, they provide high doses of romance and intrigue. Globo's novela operations have been compared to those of the Hollywood studios, particularly MGM, in the 1940s. To outpace the competition, Globo signs up many of Brazil's leading actors and actresses--maintaining a reserve of top talent. Ironically, many of those same stars filmed spots for Lula's presidential campaign. Regardless of their personal preferences, those actors and actresses present Globo's version of reality in the novelas. Researcher Maria Helena Weber, of Rio Grande do Sul state, analyzed three novelas which appeared during the presidential campaign in 1988-89. All three, she concludes, worked to buttress Collor's campaign. Salvador da Patria (Savior of the Country), which ran as the presidential campaign shifted into gear in mid-1989, tells the story of a mentally deficient character who becomes mayor. At first controlled by powerful political forces, he later expresses independent positions. It teaches, according to Weber, that "politicians don't need to have a political background, they don't need to be intelligent, they don't need to have a history." She says this orientation favored Collor, the former supporter of the dictatorship trying to hide his background and run against the system. Weber maintains that the novelas set the ideological stage for Brazil's depoliticization, precisely as the country drew close to its first direct presidential elections in 30 years. She adds that this helped propel Collor's anti-political candidacy and also contributed to the high number of blank and spoiled ballots in the October 1990 congressional elections (voting is obligatory in Brazil). Weber is quick to point out that outside Brazil it may seem strange to attribute such influence to nightly television programs. But she argues that in a country lacking an adequate educational system, most people have few alternative sources of information--a problem compounded by the fact that Brazil is emerging from a dictatorship and still suffers from a paucity of solid democratic institutions. "Globo doesn't have power in isolation," she says. "The problem is that you have weakened political and educational institutions in Brazil." Going global In many ways, Globo has followed Hollywood in its efforts to internationalize Brazil. Many of the world's images of Brazil are created, owned and marketed by Globo. Like U.S. movie and television producers, the network pursues strategies of dumping and differentiated pricing structures to sell its novelas and other selected programming abroad. (A Globo executive once compared the company's sales tactics to those of drug pushers. You give it away to capture the market, then up the ante, she said.) This approach has helped Globo out-distance its main international competitor in the novela market, Mexico's Televisa. Globo took two major steps to increase its international penetration in the past decade. In 1980, it created an international division, and then in 1985, trying to get a foothold in Europe prior to unification, it purchased TV Montecarlo, which has transmitters aimed toward Italian territory. The TV Montecarlo project did not develop as well as expected, however. In September 1989, Globo sold 40 percent of its Dutch-based holding company, Globo Europa, which controls TV Montecarlo, to the Italian Ferruzzi Group. But Globo continues to move forward on other international fronts, particularly in the area of co-productions, having signed such agreements with Italy's RAI and the Cuban Radio and Television Institute. Despite the financial strength to which these agreements attest, TV Globo's future is uncertain--not only because of President Collor's unpredictable ambivalence toward the network, but also because so much of its identity and decision-making power are wrapped up in its aging founder. Marinho's three sons are expected to inherit the operation, but there is no guarantee that long-time Globo professionals, loyal to the old man, will not look for new challenges and sweeter contracts with growing competitors SBT and Manchete, both launched in the 1980s, or in the new pay TV market. But while Globo's power may wane when Marinho passes on the enterprise, for now the network continues to exert extraordinary influence over the Brazilian viewing audience. NAMES IN THE NEWS (omitted here; unscannable)