From the Tupi TV Log: “New Journalism” From TV Futura

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La Prensa Libre, Costa Rica, today: “Political parties will suffer from public discontent in the wake of the CAFTA referendum.”

The “yes” given this Sunday in a Costa Rican referendum on the free trade agreement between Central America, the Dominican Republic and the United States constitutes a “defeat” for Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, the Washington Post affirmed today. –Agence France-Presse, October 10

I awoke after nodding out over Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo last evening to discover that freaking mosquitos were bleeding me dry.

So I got up to go find that coiled incense-like punk you burn to drive them off — it works fine — and wound up watching a documentary with Neuza on the Costa Rican elections of 2006 on Brazil’s Canal Futura.

The program aired as Costa Ricans were holding a referendum on CAFTA, a bilateral free-trade agreement with the United States. The motion carried, but fraud is being alleged by opponents of the measure.

The blurb from the Futura documentary:

A Costa Rica é considerada a democracia mais antiga da América Latina. O país escapou das ondas ditatoriais que marcaram a história de boa parte do continente. A data mais simbólica para a tradição democrática costarriquenha é o dia 5 de fevereiro. Neste dia, em 2006, aconteceram as eleições para presidente do país. Luís Nachbin acompanhou a disputa que, voto a voto, foi muito mais acirrada do que se imaginava antes das eleições…

Costa Rica is considered the oldest democracy in Latin America. The country escaped the wave of dictatorships that marred the history of a good portion of the continent.

Latin America is not a continent. It includes Spanish-speaking countries in North, Central and South America. And Brazil, which speaks a different form of Modern Mutated Vulgar Latin.

The most symbolic date for Costa Rican democracy is February 5. On this day, in 2006, presidential elections were held. Luís Nachbin followed the dispute that, vote by vote, was much more hard-fought than was expected prior to the elections.

The astonishing thing about this documentary, I thought, was that its cheerful celebration of an exemplary democratic culture simply stops covering the elections before they are decided.

After the polls resulted in a technical tie between the two leading candidates, a recount was conducted and nearly 600 claims of election fraud had to be adjudicated before Oscar Arias was declared the winner.

The voting took one day.

Declaring the results took over a month.

An academic post-mortem on the elections (PDF) by statisticians at the University of Costa Rica concluded that electoral fraud could neither be confirmed nor ruled out (but that a further recount would not have altered the result).

In other words, never mind why: It was not entirely clear whether there was democracy or not. The similarity with the COPARMEX-paid defense of the 2006 Mexican elections — “how could the elections have been fraudulent if they were run by our friends, family and neighbors?” — could not be more striking.

See also

The principal problems with that election started once the ballots were gathered and manually added up at each precinct, then handed off to the PREP quick-count system. Which was run by a firm belonging to the brother-in-law of one of the candidates.

It is a well-known principle of systems engineering that process handoffs are the source of highest risk.

The narrator of this documentary, likewise, covers that post-election day process in a matter of seconds, in a voiceover to the effect that “Arias supports had to wait 15 days before the confirmation of their victory.”

(It actually took much longer than 15 days.)

Likewise, this documentary seems to be filibustering while changing the subject. If every vote was received, democracy was successfully celebrated. Oba! Never mind if every vote was counted, and every voter voted only once.

And as to “hard-fought,” there is scarcely any coverage at all — even token coverage — of the debates, the issues, or the candidates campaigning and voters reacting to the candidates campaigning.

It consisted almost entirely of the guy asking pretty, giggling girls, “How does it feel to be participating in this festival of democracy?”

Also peculiar was the fact that nearly ever single frame of the film is filled with the green banners and paraphenalia of Arias supporters.

Arias’ leading rival, is interviewed extremely briefly, in an impoverished rural Indian village, explaining his opposition to the proposed free trade agreement with the United States and promoting a Latin American integration project spearheaded by Brazil. In about 15 words.

Arias supporters are extensively interviewed.

Virtually no stated supporters of rival candidates are interviewed.

It looked an awful lot to me like an Arias campaign video after the fact.

Not that I have anything against Oscar Arias, mind you — unless it turns out he stole those elections, of course.

But please: Do not try to tell me that you have covered an election whose results were delayed by over a month because of fraud charges without covering those charges, or the process whereby those charges were resolved.

Some background reporting from Radio Primerisima (Costa Rica) from February 23, 2006:

El Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (TSE) concluyó la tarde del miércoles el recuento manual de votos tras las elecciones del 5 de febrero, pero no proclamó presidente electo pues aún debe resolver 599 denuncias de irregularidades presentadas por el PAC, para lo cual no tiene un plazo definido.

The national elections tribunal (TSE) concluded the manual recount of the elections February 5, but did not proclaim a winner because it must still rule on 599 charges of irregularies presented by the PAC, for the completion of which it has no fixed deadline.

Arias was declared the winner on March 7, 2006.

Aunque no ha sido declarado aún electo, Arias –del Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN, derecha)– ganó por una estrecha ventaja de 18 mil 165 votos, un 40.92%, sobre Ottón Solís, de Acción Ciudadana (PAC) con 646 mil 391 votos, 39.80%. La diferencia entre ambos candidatos, los más votados de un total de 14 aspirantes a la presidencia, es del 1.12% de los sufragios.

Although not yet declared the winner, Arias, of the PLN (right) won by a tight margin of 18,165 votes (some 40.92%) over Ottón Solis of Citizen Action (PAC) with 646,391 (39.80%). The margin separating the two top candidates in a field of 14 was 1.12% of the total votes cast.

Además de haber presentado 599 denuncias de irregularidades, el PAC también solicitó al TSE volver a contar 712 mesas que presentaban inconsistencias, pero esa solicitud fue rechazada por el TSE. “Hay más de 150 mesas en que no aparece el padrón registro y entre 3.500 y 4.000 papeletas de votación que no aparecen”, añadió Solís, economista de profesión.

Besides having presenting 599 charges of irregularities, PAC also asked the TSE to recount 712 precincts that presented inconsistencies, but this petition was turned down by the TSE. “There are more than 150 polling stations that are not registered in the database, and some 3,500 to 4,000 [voter registration cards] that do not appear [in it],” said Solís, an economist by profession.

“Voting early and voting often,” I believe the man is suggesting.

El candidato del PAC reiteró que el proceso electoral presenta “muchas anomalías y eso obliga a que no se haga una declaración (de presidente) a la ligera, sino una en la que todos estemos tranquilos”. Solís insistió en que se debe “respetar la institucionalidad” pues eso es algo “muy serio para mí”.

The PAC candidate repeated that the elections process presented “many anomalies that mean that we should not declare (a winner) lightly, but issue a declaration that we can all accept with an easy mind.” Solís insisted that “institutions must be respected,” but that this is something “I take very seriously.”

On Luís Nachin, from his (anonymously authored) Wikipedia:

Luís Nachbin é jornalista e apresentador do programa de TV “Passagem Para…”, exibido pelo canal Futura. Ele já foi repórter da TV Globo e hoje é o único repórter freelancer da emissora. Diferente da maioria dos colegas do telejornalismo nacional, Nachbin é um videorepórter cujas matérias são calcadas na estética do New Journalism, usando ângulos e estéticas típicas de documentário. Ele é conhecido por inúmeros programas com profundidade incomum para o veículo que trabalha. Além da carreira jornalística, ele é professor de Telejornalismo da PUC-Rio há muitos anos, tendo alunos como Arthur Ituassu e Renata Cantanhede. O jornalista apresenta a cultura dos países que visita de maneira inovadora, além de buscar ângulos inexplorados pelos programas tradicionais.

… a journalist and host of the TV program “Ticket to …” on TV Futura. He is a former TV Globo reporter and is today the network’s only freelance reporter. Unlike most of his colleagues in Brazilian telejournalism, Nachbin is a video report whose reports are framed by the aesthetic of the New Journalism, using angles and aesthetics typical of documentary. He is known for countless problems characterized by an uncommon depth at the channel he works for. Besides his career as a journalist, he has taught Telejournalism at PUC-RJ for many years, having taught such journalists as Arthur Itaussu and Renata Cantanhede. He presents the culture of the countries he visits in an innovative fashion, besides seeking angles unexplored by traditional programs.

“New Journalism” [in English in the original] redirects you, on Portuguese Wikipedia, to an article on “Literary Journalism.”

Jornalismo Literário é uma especialização do jornalismo feita com a arte da literatura. Também conhecido como Literatura não-ficcional, Literatura da realidade, Jornalismo em profundidade, Jornalismo Diversional, Reportagem-ensaio, Jornalismo de Autor.

… a journalistic specialty done with the art of literature. Also known as non-fiction literature, the literature of reality, in-depth journalism, “recreational” journalism …

Citing Tom Wolfe in the bibliography, but not Geertz’s theory of “thick description.”

There is a Brazilian Academy of Literary Journalism whose Web site indicates today’s date as October 10, 19107.

Which seems appropriate somehow.

Again, I cannot say that setting out to poroduce a documentary on an elections process and then leaving the scene weeks before it is complete impressed me as an example of “uncommon depth” in reporting.

I mean, really: The guy basically just hung around in the lobby with the ladies who ran his hotel and asked him who they were going to vote for. There was a long section of happy-talk in-studio interviews with two Costa Ricans living in Brazil, a Rio student and the owner of a Rio travel agency.

Seriously. I thought this was a student project by the freshman J-school class.

Autohagiography by proxy alert.

Technical ties within the margin of error, followed by a result obtained in the courts.

Sound familiar?

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University of Costa Rica School of Statistics, Institution of Social Research. “Referendum and Free Trade Agreement, Telephone Surveys Between July and September, 2007.” “23% percent of working-class respondents indicated they could run into problems if they talked about the FTA, or otherwise expressed hesitation about discussing the issue.”

The series is part of an international media project called Why Democracy, with the involvement of 30+ broadcasters worldwide. Its Web site, as a quick whois query indicated, is registered to

Steps International
PO Box 21545 Kloof Str
Cape Town, ZA 8008

Its technical contact is its South African Web designer.

The Steps International Working Group listed on the site.

  • Nick Fraser — BBC commissioning editor
  • Mette Hoffman Meyer — Commissioning Editor, DRTV Denmark
  • Christoph Jörg — Arte commissioning editor
  • Iikka Vehkalahti — YLE commissioning editor
  • Don Edkins — Executive Producer Steps International
  • Mette Heide — Executive Producer Steps International
  • Hans Robert Eisenhauer — ZDF/Arte

Futura is sponsored by:

  • Bayer Schering Pharma
  • CNI
  • CNT
  • Fundação Bradesco
  • Fundação Itaú Social
  • Fundação Vale do Rio Doce
  • Grupo Gerdau
  • Rede Globo
  • Turner Broadcasting – CNN
  • Votorantim

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