“Bring on the CPI of Abril”: Assessing The Risco Civita

“The Authoritarian Temptation: The PT’s attempts to monitor and control the press, television and culture.” Translation: “Dilma could decide those zero-down spectrum concessions we got were the fruit of a skeevy plundering of the commonwealth! Bork her with all you’ve got!

From the trade-unionist Hora do Povo newspaper — whose Wikipedia profile has been edited to describe it as a planfetinho [sic] que …

… [p]ublica diversos artigos e acontecimentos, como os do Fofocas, é [sic] mentiras desvairadas. É um jornal ligado a extrema esquerda política brasileira, com forte ligação principalmente com o Partido dos Trabalhadores é ao grupo terrorista MR8, por esse motivo, é criticado por uma atuação totalmente parcial.

… a [pamphleteering little rag] that publishes a variety of articles and news items, like Gossip items, and bare-faced lies. It is a newspaper linked to the Brazilian extreme left, with strong ties mainly to the Workers’ Party and the terrorist group MR8, for that reason, it is criticized for its totally biased coverage.

Ah, Wikipedia. Without the sparkling erudition of your vast mobs of smart people, where would we be? Staring at flickering shadows on the walls of Plato’s Cave, that’s where. Naturally, the entry is now tagged with several NPOV (neutral point of view) challenges.

O Diretório Nacional do PT, reunido na sexta-feira (5), divulgou resolução destacando que “reafirma a posição da bancada e da Executiva Nacional, em favor da instalação de uma CPI para investigar a aprovação da compra da TVA, operadora de TV a cabo do grupo Abril, pela transnacional Telefônica, em um negócio de cerca de R$ 1 bilhão”.

Meeting on October 5, the PT (Workers’ Party) national leadership published a resolution in which it “reaffirms of the parliamentary benches and the national executive in favor of installing a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the purchase of Abril’s cable TV operator, TVA, by the multinational Telefónica, a deal worth nearly a billion reals.

See also

As local political pundits are noting (G1, the Estadão): Now that the “sex Senator,” Renan Calheiros, is on leave from the presidency of the Senate– and unlikely to return, some pundits want to bet you — the Executive and both houses of Congress are all presided over by the PT — President Squid at the Granja do Torto, Chinaglia (sort of an Italo-Tupi Tip O’Neill, I tend to see the guy) — in the house, and Viana in the senate.

So what does that correlation of forces bode for the political risk scenario Abril and Telefónica find themselves facing? With their deal still to be signed off on by CADE, the antitrust regulator?

You should also note that ANATEL (the Brazilian FCC) is under new management since approving the Abril-Telefónica deal last year. It’s now chaired by a Mr. Sardemberg, a reputed technocrat, strategic planning nerd, and minister of Sci-Tech under FHC II, I believe it was.

Anatel last week announced a “bill of rights” for cable TV subscribers.

Which we were actually glad to hear.

We suddenly found ourselves without a number of channels we used to get while paying the same amount of money.

Our cable provider (Globo-Carlos Slim): “We did not tell you about it beforehand because, well, to be frank with you, WE DON’T HAVE TO.”

As I am reading in TeleSintese today, that is no longer true. And Telefónica, perennial leader in consumer complaints, has also been hit with regulatory actions recently.

A CPI da Abril foi protocolada no mês de agosto com a assinatura de 182 deputados, 60 dos quais filiados ao Partido dos Trabalhadores. Integrantes de todos os partidos, exceto PSDB, referendaram o pedido de investigação feito pelo deputado Wladimir Costa, do PMDB do Pará.

The CPI of Abril was entered into the record in August, with the signature of 182 federal deputies, 60 of them PT affiliates. Members from all parties, except the PSDB, endorsed the request for a CPI by Costa (PMDB-Pará).

O Diretório do PT também apoiou a luta das entidades populares organizadas na Coordenação dos Movimentos Sociais (CMS) pela democratização da mídia. “A iniciativa da CMS significa um amadurecimento e avanço das organizações e movimentos dos trabalhadores e do povo, no entendimento de que a questão da Comunicação não é apenas uma questão dos profissionais e especialistas dessa área, mas uma questão de todos os cidadãos/ãs. Portanto, uma questão social e, como todas as questões sociais, uma questão de política. E a política, neste caso, deve partir do entendimento de que a democratização dos meios de comunicação de massa significa que não podem estar submetidos ao controle de monopólios privados”.

The PT leadership also supported the struggle by organized civil society groups from the Social Movements Coordinating Council (CMS) for the democratization of the media. “The CMS initiative demonstrated the maturation and progress achieved by popular and workers organizations, in understanding that the question of communications in not only of interest to professionals and specialists who work in the sector, but an issue for all citizens. It is, therefore, a social issues, and like all social issues, a policy issue. Policy, in this case, should start from the understanding that the democratization of the mass media means that the mass media cannot be submitted to the control of private monopolies.”

So how much trouble is the Grupo Abril in, do you think?

I must disclose here that I find it hard to be objective on the issue, because I have actually consumed the products these people put out.

A lot of them are just utterly vile. I really don’t think their foreign content partners — with the possible exception of the Afrikaans “national fathers” of Naspers — really understand just what they are associating their brand names with down here.

On the other hand, Abril could just decide to stop being vile.

There are plenty of journalists and editors around who know how to produce perfectly good stuff. Not Pultizer-winning, government-overthrowing stuff. Just useful, informative stuff that makes you start to think of the Abril brand with a sense of loyalty. Veja’s Time Out clones for Rio and São Paulo, for example, already seem to command that kind of loyalty simply because they have good listings. If you read the listings and not the articles, you tend to think well of the thing.

It could even continue successfully appealing to a “conservative” readership without having to gabble and confabulate at them. “Conservatives” can be just as pro-Reality Principle as anyone else, I tend to think.

Instead of advising them to “trust in the power of positive thinking” — nam myoho renge kyo — perhaps you could start gently selling them on the virtues of learning to “adapt and overcome.”

Just fire all those creeps you have in there now — under cover of a Michael Hammer “corporate reengineering,” why not? — and plan a major push for the incredible relaunch of Veja 2.0!

Retooled for the 21st-century!

But even if its content were not utterly vile, you would still have this problem of ownership of the content pipeline.

If I were advising Veja, I would counsel them to try to insist — calmly, cooly, and in pleasant tone of voice that projects quiet competence and confidence and sweet reasonability that these are two separate issues.

The content is not the content pipeline.

The technical legality of the deal has nothing to do with the controversial nature of the product that moves throught that pipeline. Products can be reengineered to meet changing patterns of demand.

There does exist a school of thought according to which the customer can be reengineered to demand exactly what it is you’re selling. But human beings are incredibly complex and obstinate creatures, and the track record of that approach is dubious at best.

Reasonable regulation could be calmly negotiated, with your strong preference being for industry self-regulation. Look at other industries in the world. That pitch actually has a track record of working a good deal of the time. Hire Goldman for advice on how to do it.

NYSE-Euronext? That deal actually looks like it’s good to go, despite skeptics. Reuters-Thomson, on the other hand? [Harsh game-show buzzer.] Study the successful deal and avoid doing your deals in ways that have failed in other cases.

I bet you I could even write Abril a lovely promotional campaign that spins the change of direction as a bold and innovative opening of a new frontier in Brazilian journalism.

A campaign so persuasive and exciting that no one would even think of the change in terms of “Veja finally stops gabbling.”

If you really, truly stopped sucking, you might even get people to forgive and forget how deeply you sucked for so many years in the past. Veja: newsweekly of Brazil, Nation of the Future!

I’m serious. It could actually work.

Abril might also think about trying to stop ratfinking any attempt to bust their stranglehold on the market and accept that in the future they will have to actually compete.

People want more, better, cheaper stuff to read. I mean, I know I certainly do. And the shortage of affordable, readable reading material around here is one of the things that contributes most to my on-again, off-again sense of total culture shock.

With the market share Abril reportedly enjoys now — those rosy figures and projections cited by Chairman Civita to Jornalismo & Cia. recently were accurate, right? — they should have an excellent head start, plenty of room for maneuver, and good prospects of holding onto a big, fat chunk of that market for years to come.

Pure capitalism: Find out what people want and need, and then give it to them.

You can do it!

Losing your monopoly can be traumatic, but you will find that in exchange for that false sense of absolute security, you will be gaining something far more valuable.

You will be getting a Life 1.0! Joining the human race!

Dueling dumb-downs: “Toucans get ready to privatize absolutely everything!” Spend $20 million for an asset valuation of state-owned firms. Current governor tends to argue that privatizations, semiprivatizations, and mixed-economy financing only degenerate into black holes of waste, fraud and abuse when they are misgoverned and infected with the plague of political cronysim. Which he promises not to do. It’s an interesting proposition: There are PPPs and privatizations that work because they are well-governed, and then there are Blackwater and Halliburton. When the federal government auctioned off highway maintenance concessions recently, huge headlines screamed “PT privatize more than the Toucans ever did!”
But the deals in question were actually structured quite a bit differently than previous deals, and the government is touting much, much lower costs to the consumer. Also an interesting beancounting and quality of service issue to track.  


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