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Who is the owner?

The lack of transparency on media ownership in Brazil

Finding out who are the owners of Brazilian radio stations, television channels, newspapers and online portals is not an easy task for common citizens interested in the subject. Nor is it for journalists or researchers. This information is not actively publicized by the companies.

According to MOM’s global methodology, the research team sent the companies that control the 50 communication vehicles of larger audience in Brazil a request for information about their shareholding composition (their owners), besides information about income, operational profit, publicity revenue. In the case of radio stations and TV channels, we have also solicited the list of companies affiliated to their networks and their shareholding composition, we also asked about the relationship between generating broadcasters and companies connected in the network – specially the level of financial and administrative obligations generated in this composition.

No media owning company or institution responded. The controller of one of the 26 large groups, which owns television channels, radio stations, newspapers and internet portals, let us know that “for strategical reasons, the requested information isn’t public”. The president of another group asked us how many other companies had answered our request. His decision to inform the shareholding composition depended on the attitude of his peers in the mass communication market. Other groups stated that they intended to collaborate, but no information was effectively sent.

It is not true that at least some of the requested information is exclusively private. The radio stations and TV channels have received from the Federal Government their right to use the necessary frequencies to broadcast their signals. They are, thus, granted public services providers and need to keep information about who controls them in a public database, managed by the National Telecommunications Agency (Anatel), called Sistema de Acompanhamento de Controle Societário (Siacco – Shareholder’s Control Monitoring System). Regarding revenue, the financial results and commercial relations between the companies in Brazil don’t have a specific legal or constitutional mechanism which obliges limited societies or anonymous societies of closed capital to publicize their shareholding constitution and their financial demonstratives. Many don’t.

In order to consult the information available at Siacco, it is necessary to know each company’s CNPJ and which, among the many mass communication vehicle’s owner’s societies, received the grant. What common citizen will give away his time for such a research? Besides, the results aren’t always conclusive. There are companies that simply do not declare their shareholding compositions. There are companies which declare that 30% of their capital belong to “Others”, or still those that have other legal entities as owners.

Legally, commercial societies are required to keep their shareholding compositions registered with Commercial Registries and Notary Offices, but there aren’t efficient transparency and information access policies for the monitoring of this information. The Registries have local or regional (state) character and the possibility of access to this information varies according to municipality or state in question – in many of them, each query is charged for an amount close to R$200,00. By CNPJ! Churches, foundations and non-profit organizations do not register in Commercial Registries.

Even when it comes to large groups, the information provided by the Registry might not be conclusive. An example: the Abridged Certificate for Organizações Globo Participações, a holding owned by the Marinho family with a social capital of R$7.91 billion, requested at the Rio de Janeiro Commercial Registry for R$116,00, doesn’t list the company’s partners’ names nor their participation in the shareholding composition. It only brings a list of directors, proxies, and some advisers. How much money would be necessary for research until one could arrive at the document where this information is finally listed, for all groups and vehicles?

Some groups, like Bandeirantes, annually register their social capital at the Commercial Registry, in order to obey what the article 38, of Law 4117/62, modified by Law 10.610, of December 20t, 2002 predicts – “concessionaires and permissionaires of broadcast services shall present, until the last commercial day of each year, to the organ of the Executive Power expressly defined by the President of the Republic and to commercial registry or legal entity registry organs, a declaration with the shareholding composition of their social capital, including the appointment of born or naturalized Brazilians, who are standing members for over ten years, directly or indirectly, of at least seventy per cent of the total capital and voting capital.” But Grupo Bandeirantes is an exception.

An aggravating factor in this context is the total liberty with which groups change, transfer, buy and sell partial or total shares. The Law 13.424/2017, approved after a Provisional Measure by President Michel Temer, abolished a previous determination: stations were not allowed to effect shareholding changes before the government’s approval, and now they can; the regulation obliged them to inform changes, after they had been effected, to the Ministry for Science, Technology, Information and Communication (MCTIC). The Ministry then publicizes them, as they were provided by the companies, at Siacco.

How, then, was it possible to carry out MOM? Crossing data from the Receita Federal (IRS), Anatel, Ministry of Communication, Commercial Registries, balance sheets published by some of the companies and works already published by researchers that study mass communication in Brazil. These complex and indirect pathways taken by MOM researchers to arrive at ownership data, made difficult for the general public, the absence of responses at information requests and difficulties faced with information systems make up a worrisome scenario.

Hence the risk indicators for media plurality connected to transparency being alarming: the risk regarding transparency is medium to high and the one regarding legal safeguards for media transparency is high – only 1 of the 6 safeguards is available in Brazil.

Putting information at the citizen’s disposal, so that society can understand who controls the news they get, should be a policy for companies who hold such an important role. But it isn’t.

Other conflicts in the historical transparency challenge

In the 1990s, the secrecy of these data was reported in the media. Only in 2003, in the beginnings of Lula’s (PT) government, a list was publicized for the first time of the official broadcast concessionaires in Brazil – an amateur list, but which revealed the number of politicians that owned public broadcast concessions. The politician’s pressure was high and the list was removed from the Ministry of Communication’s networks.

In order to move forward in these matters, the project “Donos da Mídia” (“Owners of the Media”) came about in 2002, from a survey elaborated by the journalist Daniel Herz (1954-2006), with information publicized on the internet. In 2008, the project released a new portal where they gathered data of all licensed broadcast companies (radio and TV). The project provided information about the concession of thousands of media vehicles in Brazil. Unfortunately, the website stopped being updated and was removed from the web. Many other academic researches dealt with the subject of families and groups that owned media, some of them by MOM Brazil’s advisers or by Intervozes itself.

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