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Fill the airwaves and subdue them

Brazilian Churches as media owners

The presence of religion in the Brazilian media system has been on the rise since the 1980s, above all in the broadcasting sector. Of the 50 surveyed media outlets, 9 are owned by religious leaderships – all Christian, the prevailing religion in Brazil. Since 1989 the Grupo Record, which currently comprises of RecordTV, RecordNews, Portal R7 and the newspaper Correio do Povo – among other, smaller media outlets not listed in this survey – belongs to bishop Edir Macedo, leader of Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God – IURD). IURD bishops also own, since 1995, radio stations like the ones that constitute Rede Aleluia, also included in the survey for its relevant reach and audience size. Other evangelical media outlets listed are TV network Rede Gospel, owned by Estevam and Sônia Hernandes, leaders of Igreja Apostólica Renascer em Cristo (Reborn in Christ Apostolic Church) since 1996, and the radio network Rede Novo Tempo, owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church since 1989.

The Catholic Church appears in this survey as being associated to two networks, Rede Católica de Rádio (RCR), founded in 1997 by merger of seven existing radio networks owned by Catholic institutions and laypeople, and Rede Vida, concession granted in 1990 which began broadcasting in 1995, under INBRAC – Instituto Brasileiro de Comunicação Cristã’s (Brazilian Christian Communication Institute) management.

The situation is similar for smaller media outlets and also includes free circulation newspapers that were not included in the survey, as the weekly Folha Universal, of IURD, with a circulation of 1.8 million copies, which is significantly higher than large circulation daily newspapers such as Folha de S. Paulo (around 300 thousand copies per day) or the weekly magazines Veja (around 1.1 million copies). Besides, as Mônica Mourão revealed in an article for Intervozes in October 2016, many religious leaders who own broadcasting media outlets were also politicians with legislative mandates – a situation that contradicts Brazilian legislation. Accordingly, São Paulo’s General Attorney’s Office (Ministério Público), following a petition signed by civil society entities, including Intervozes, required that broadcasting concessions granted to legal entities who had active politicians among their partners to be cancelled. Of the 32 federal deputies listed in the investigation by General Attorney’s Office, 9 were part of the evangelical caucus (bancada evangélica), which amounted to almost 30% of the total. Of these, some were also part of the rural caucus. One of them, Beto Mansur (PRB-SP) has been sentenced for exploration of slave labour.

Of the 9 media outlets owned by religious leaderships listed in this survey, 5 dedicate all their content to defending their specific religion’s values: the radio networks Aleluia, Novo Tempo and RCR and TV channels Rede Gospel and Rede Vida. This doesn’t mean that their programming comprises of religious programs exclusively, such as the transmission of masses, cults and other ceremonies, but that, in terms of the variety of programs they broadcast, journalism, entertainment and interviews, are following a worldview and values defined as Christian by those groups. Other media outlets, such as the ones owned by Edir Macedo, RecordTV, RecordNews, Portal R7 and the newspaper Correio do Povo, are commercial media outlets with a programming that competes with other commercial media outlets, such as free TV channels Globo, SBT and Band, all news TV channels, GloboNews and BandNews, web portals and and the newspaper Zero Hora.

Labeling an outlet as commercial doesn’t exclude the presence of religion. Many media outlets not defined as religious still feature content from religious entities in their pages or programming. Of the six commercial free TV networks listed, the only exception is SBT. A study by Ancine – National Cinema Agency, in 2016, shows that religious programming is the main genre broadcast by free TV networks in the country, taking up a total of 21% of airtime. The leader is Rede TV!, which reserves 43.41% of its programming time to religious shows. In second comes RecordTV, with 21.75%, then Band, with 16.4%, TV Brasil, with 1.66% and Globo, with 0.58%.

The programs transmitted by Rede TV!, RecordTV and Band are being investigated by the General Attorney’s Office (Ministério Público) as an illegal leasing practice – selling TV channels and radio stations’ programming time to third-parties, although only the concessionaire should be responsible for the programming (their own productions or commissioned, independent productions). However leasing out airtime is one of the main revenue sources for broadcasters, of whome some are going through a financial crisis, as the TV expert journalist Flávio Ricco states, writing about Band:

Today, on Rede TV!, there are four religious programs from Monday to Friday, seven on Saturdays and four on Sundays. Thirteen belong to evangelical churches (IURD, Igreja Internacional da Graça de Deus, different branches of Assembleia de Deus, Comunidade Evangélica Internacional da Zona Sul, Igreja Bíblica da Paz and Snowball Church) and two to the Catholic Church (masses). On Band, there are two programs during the week, eight on Saturdays and two on Sundays. Eleven belong to evangelical churches (IURD, Igreja Internacional da Graça de Deus, Igreja Presbiteriana do Brasil, Assembleia de Deus Vitória em Cristo, Assembleia de Deus do Brás and Ministério Mudança de Vida, the only religious show on free TV hosted by a woman) and on to the religion, or “life philosophy” as they define themselves, Seicho-No-Ie. RecordTV runs IURD programming only late at night, besides three religious shows produced by the channel and hosted by Universal bishops.

Other conglomerates that lease programming time are Grupo Estado and Grupo Objetivo. The former owns radio stations Estadao 700 AM and 92.9FM, leased, respectively, to Rede Nossa Rádio, owned by Igreja Internacional da Graça de Deus (International Church of God’s Grace), and Igreja Comunidade Cristã Paz e Vida (Life and Peace Christian Community Church). The latter also has the TV RBI concession, which has leased programming time to evangelical churches Plenitude do Trono de Deus (God’s Throne Plenitude) and Igreja Mundial do Poder de Deus (World Church of the Power of God), and currently has a diverse programming.

TV Brasil and Rede Globo transmit self-produced religious programming or of independent production, which doesn’t constitute leasing. TV Brasil, despite being a public channel, exhibits a Catholic mass on Sundays. We couldn’t update the data on this channel’s programming, because it is not available on their website. But as the above mentioned article by Mônica Mourão shows, in 2016 they also had the Palavra da Vida and Reencontro programs. The evangelical Reencontro not only practiced religious proselytism, but only served as political stage, according to accusations of viewers submitted to the Empresa Brasil de Comunicação’s (EBC) Ombudsman.

Rede Globo also transmits the Catholic Holy Mass on Sundays. It is important to note that some of the broadcasting groups listed in this survey also feature recordings with evangelical and Catholic artists in their cast. Grupo Globo owns Som Livre, which produces albums for the singer priests – record sales champions in Brazil – and for evangelical artists, though the Você Adora label. The channel also exhibits the gospel music festival Promessas, and features singer priests and evangelical artists in their programming. IURD owns the label Line Record, which produces exclusively evangelical artists.

Print media and online portals also publish religious content continuously. Two examples are the newspaper Extra, owned by Grupo globo, which has among their columnists the singer priest father Marcelo Rossi – who also hosts a program on Rádio Glomo AM/FM – and evangelical pastor and artist Aline Barros, of Comunidade Evangélica Internacional da Zona Sul; and O Tempo, owned by Grupo Editorial Editora Sempre/Grupo SADA, with a significant number of religious columnists. Its owner, a Buddhist and philosophy and religions student, as he defines himself, constantly speaks about these topics in his columns. Besides, there is the singer priest father Marcelo Rossi, connected to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, former priest Leonardo Boff, of the Liberation Theology, and evangelical pastors Márcio Valadão, leader of the Lagoinha Baptist Church, and Jorge Linhares, leader of the Getsêmani Baptist Church, both pentecostal churches based in Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais). Furthermore there is the spiritualist leader José Trigueirinho Netto, founder of Comunidade-Luz Figueira and member of Fraternidade – Federação Humanitário Nacional, and spiritist leader José Reis Chavesm translator of “The Gospel According to the Spiritism”, by Alan Kardec.

As we can see, Brazilian media not only has many religious connections, but these connections are basically Christian, Catholic or evangelical. Religious minorities in the country, such as the religions of African descent (Umbanda and Candomblé), neither have a voice in the Brazilian media system nor a broader audience.

Religious and economic disputes

The three major free TV in Brazil – Globo, RecordTV and SBT – participate in disputes that involve not only economic issues but also religious ones. The best known of these goes on between Rede Globo and RecordTV. Here are a few episodes of this private dispute related to public concessions.

In 1991, a Globo Reporter questioned how IURD collected donations and offerings, and made accusations regarding the acquisition of Record in 1989. In the following years, Edir Macedo, bishop and the owner of RecordTV and IURD, was arrested for 11 days on accusations of larceny, charlatanism and sorcery, but the accusations couldn’t be proved.

In 1995, Jornal Nacional (Globo), aired an interview with a Universal former pastor, Carlos Magno, who accused the church, among other things, of receiving money from drug trafficking, and showed a video in which a bishop taught other pastors to collect money from church members.

In that same year, the channel aired the miniseries Decadência, inspired on a novel by Dias Gomes, which had as the main character a religious leader who socially ascended using offerings and donations to buy radio stations and a TV channel. The character was associated by the media to bishop Edir Macedo, and in the fiction plot even quoted actual sentences from Edir Macedo, which he used in an interview published by Veja magazine.

Still in 1995, the channel repeatedly showed an image of a Igreja Universal bishop, Sérgio Von Heider, in its newscasts, where he was kicking a statue of Nossa Senhora Aparecida (Our Lady of Aparecida) during his RecordTV show O Despertar da Fé, – a provocation that caused an immense reaction from Brazilian Catholics, which are still the largest part of the population.

RecordTV reacted. In 1995, the program 25ª Hora aired a special edition about Fundação Roberto Marinho, accusing it of using public money for the group’s private companies, such as the newspaper O Globo and Rede Globo.

The war goes on: in 2009, Jornal Nacional aired an investigation by São Paulo prosecutors to find out if Universal had used tithe money and tax exemption to buy media outlets.

Record responded with a news story accusing the Marinho family of using Rede Globo to support the Military Dictatorship and to influence presidential and state elections after the redemocratization.

In 2017, Domingo Espetacular (RecordTV), aired a news story suggesting that Rede Globo feared a statement by former minister Antônio Palocci (PT) during Operação Lava Jato, because it could expose “TV Globo’s businesses involving tax evasion, foreign front companies and deals in soccer contracts”.

With economic, political and religious interests in mind, we can expect more to come.

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