Rat Ptui: The Moral Crusade Against Brazilian Trash TV, 1998

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IBOPE ratings for “the husband who put out the eyes and cut off the ears of his wife,” Ratinho (Record), March 5, 1998.

In exchange for payments of R$80 to R$150 per day, and sometimes under pressure, these persons agreed to play, live and in prime time, the roles of the betrayed husband, the religious medium, and the transvestite, among many, many others. They even tangled physically on the show, but in real life their dramas were quite different — and no less touching.

A snippet from my ongoing reading on Brazilian TV, as a follow-up to questions raised in

I recently came across a 1999 thesis by Pablo Reis of the Federal University of Bahia which raises an interesting question: What was, and whatever became of, the Globo Standard of Quality?

The thesis is titled:

Ponto de ruptura: Ratinho, auditório, mundo-cão e outros “bichos” da televisão

Breaking point: “The mouse,” variety shows, mondo cane [“a dog’s life”] and other TV “critters.”

For me, the thesis starts to fill in a bit of the historical background to the movement whose principals are described in that previous post.

We watch the Globo network down here quite a bit, and find its news programming in particular just jaw-droppingly awful — although my wife remains a religious viewer of Globo soaps. The blurring of the line between fact and fiction is possibly its most salient characteristic, I tend to find.

Still, it would be a mistake to think that Globo is responsible for the entire mess, as I do try to show you in my NMM(-TV)SNB(B)CNN(P)BS media reels, especially in the area of law and justice reporting. I simply do not perceive the “progress” celebrated, for example, by a recent report on the subject:

It is still quite common to see astonishing TV and “journalistic” moments like the following, for example:

Globo tends to respond to any move toward rating or regulating its content with narratives of “totalitarian repression.” Gabbling mightily in the process. See

An interesting chapter in the recent evolution of this degradation of public discourse is the story of Ratinho, an epoch-makingly weird program on the Record network that later moved to SBT, before disappearing from the air in the midst of a scandal over “true-life” stories that turned out to be purely fictional.

The downfall of Ratinho — “the little mouse” — was the result of a moral “crusade,” Reis recounts.

O ano de 1998 pode ser encarado como o período crítico em que a televisão encontrou seu limiar. Passeando entre o popularesco e a baixaria, o veículo chegou até a linha tênue que separa a concorrência acirrada da extinção da ética. A complexidade da situação convocou novos personagens ao antigo palco da qualificação da TV. O governo utilizou ora o diálogo, ora medidas coercitivas. A queda de braço foi resultado de um ano em que as televisões desconheceram limites e ignoraram a ética. Na briga pela liderança em audiência, valeu mostrar desde modelo nua servindo de mesa para um banquete de sushis a situações forjadas de adultério e homossexualismo — quase sempre com direito a pancadaria no final.

1998 can be viewed as the critical period in which Brazilian TV ran up against its limits. Between populist programming and trash TV, it arrived at the tenuous line between heated competition and the extinction of broadcasting ethics. The complexity of the situation brought new actors to the stage of TV quality assessments. The government used both dialogue and coercive measures at different moments. The arm-wrestling match was the result of a year in which TV networks defied all limits and ignored ethics. In the battle for audience share, the model — which served up a buffet of staged incidents involving adultery and homosexuality, normally ending in generalized physical violence — was now in plain view.

“TV pode começar a mudar hoje” era o título de uma notícia publicada na Folha de São Paulo no dia 16 de novembro de 98. Nela, o secretário nacional de Direitos Humanos, José Gregori, introduz a necessidade de controle para a programação da televisão brasileira. A reportagem retoma uma pesquisa realizada pelo IBOPE e o Ministério da Justiça em 97 revelando que a população rejeita a censura, mas que 75% dos brasileiros são favoráveis a algum tipo de controle da programação. Munido com esta informação, José Gregori saiu em missão de catequese das emissoras. Criada em 1997, a Organização Não-Governamental TVer, reunindo especialistas em mídia, infância e educação, encarou o momento como desafio à participação do público no debate. O grupo TVer defendeu a idéia da interferência direta da sociedade na programação televisiva, por meio de entidades representativas de todos os segmentos.

“TV could start to change today” was the headline in the Folha de S. Paulo on November 16, 1998. In that story, the national secretary of human rights, José Gregori, introduces the idea that Brazilian TV programming needs controls. The article cites a survey taken by IBOPE and the Ministry of Justice in 1997 revealing that the Brazilian people rejected censorship, but that 75% were in favor of some kind of regulation of programming. Armed with this information, Gregori sallied out on a mission to catechize the broadcast networks. Created in 1997, the NGO TVer, made up experts in media, child development and education, saw the moment as a challenge to include the public in the debate. TVer defended direct intervention by society in TV programming, through bodies in which all sectors of society were represented.

Which could explain Globo’s fierce and principled commitment, for example — though it is not alone in this respect — to the promoting the notion that “democracy simply doesn’t work.”

Na esteira da polêmica gerada, o Poder Legislativo também absorveu uma parte da responsabilidade no processo de purificação. Uma comissão especial de parlamentares, encabeçada pelo senador Pedro Simon, foi constituída para a programação de rádio e televisão. Como resultado do trabalho, um relatório com mais de 600 páginas propunha a criação de um conselho de comunicação social encarregado de fiscalizar as programação. Além disso, as emissoras seriam obrigadas a dedicar um espaço fixo para produções educativas infantis e terem seus próprios ombusdmen.

In the wake of the ensuing controversy, the federal legislature also assumed responsibility for the process of purification to come. A special commission, headed by Sen. Pedro Simon, was formed to examine radio and TV programming. As a result of their labors, a report of more than 600 pp. proposed the creation of a Council on Social Communications in charge of overseeing programming. Further, the broadcasters would be obliged to dedicate a fixed portion of their airtime to educational programming for children and employ in-house ombudsmen.

Acuadas, as emissoras são formalmente interpeladas sobre suas programações pela secretaria de Direitos Humanos. Cada uma procura se defender utilizando os argumentos mais próximos da identidade construída. A Globo responde conforme a premissa de que faz a melhor televisão do Brasil e uma das melhores do mundo, fomentando um contínuo processo de busca da qualidade em suas produções e reafirmando o papel de uma empresa que detém uma concessão pública. O SBT admite que busca a audiência popular sem apelações, com credibilidade e conteúdo social. A direção da Record desaprova os excessos tanto de cenas de sexo quanto de violência fora de contextos.

Their backs against the wall, the broadcasters were formally questioned about their programming by the secretary of human rights. Each sought to defend itself using the arguments most appropriate to the identify it had constructed for itself. Globo responded based on the premise that it offers the best television in Brazil and some of the best in the world, fomenting a process of continuous quality improvement in its productions and reaffirming the role of a private company that operates a public concesion. SBT admitted that it seeks a popular audience, but does so without …, with credibility and social content. Record management expressed disapproval of excesses, including sex scenes and violence shown out of context.

A Rede Bandeirantes também partilha desse estilo de defesa e se antecipou às outras elaborando um decálogo de princípios para sua programação. Tópicos como respeito às pessoas envolvidas em seus programas, preservação da privacidade, imparcialidade e profissionalismo fazem parte dos dez mandamentos morais da empresa. O quarto item é particularmente sintomático de uma reação contra os programas de auditório: “Entreter e divertir o público é uma tarefa nobre, que não pode ser contaminada pelo desrespeito a nenhum segmento da sociedade. A humilhação não é uma forma justificável de entretenimento”.

Bandeirantes used the same style of defense, anticipating the others in drawing up a Ten Commandments list of principles for its programming. Topics such as respect for persons involved in their programs, preservation of privacy, impartiality and professionalism were part of these moral commandents. The fourth item is particularly symptomatic of the reaction against “auditorium” shows: “Entertaining and amusing the public is a noble task, one that cannot be contaminated by disrespect to any sector of society. Humiliation is not a justifiable form of entertainment.

Como representante dos interesses dos empresários do setor, a ABERT se compromete a atualizar o Código de Ética da categoria, que fora reescrito em 93, aplicá-lo efetivamente e estabelecer multas rigorosas aos infratores. Qualquer esforço seria válido para banir completamente a ameaça de censura ou controle externo.

As representatives of the interests of business owners in this sector, ABERT promised to update its Code of Ethics, which had been rewritten in 1993, to effectively enforce it and to establish rigorous fines for infractions. All efforts would be made in order to banish completely the threat of censorship or external control.

Uma das razões para o temor da ABERT começou com a nova rodada de escândalos envolvendo Ratinho, já com seu programa no SBT. A Folha de São Paulo desmascarava, no mês de outubro, a farsa envolvendo quatro casos apresentados como verídicos. O falso travesti era um balconista de padaria, casado e pai de duas crianças. O falso pai-de-santo que apanhara ao vivo era um motorista desempregado. O falso amante pego em flagrante num motel era um pedreiro evangélico. O falso traído que exibiu um vídeo da suposta esposa na cama com outro homem era um desempregado.

One of the things that had ABERT quaking in its books was the new round of scandals involving Rantinho, who was still on SBT. In October, the Folha had uncovered the farce involving four cases presented as real. The phony transvestite was actually a counterman in a bakery, married with two children. The phony religious medium who was shown being beaten, live, was an unemployed driver. The phony lover caught red-handed in a love motel was actually an evangelical construction worker. The phony victim of betrayal, who showed a video of his supposed wife in bed with another man, was unemployed.

Além de participarem de uma encenação, todos tinham em comum o fato de passarem por dificuldades financeiras e terem recebido um pagamento pela participação.

Besides participating in staged scenes, all of them had in common that they were in financial difficulties and had received payment for their participation.

Em troca de cachês de R$80 a R$150 por dia e, às vezes sob pressão, essas pessoas se sujeitam a interpretar, ao vivo e no horário nobre, papéis de marido traído, de pai-de-santo e de travesti, entre inúmeros outros. Chegam até a brigar, mas na vida real seus dramas são outros — e não menos delicados.

In exchange for payments of R$80 to R$150 per day, and sometimes under pressure, these persons agreed to play, live and in prime time, the roles of the betrayed husband, the religious medium, and the transvestite, among many, many others. They even tangled physically on the show, but in real life their dramas were quite different — and no less touching.

Ratinho tentou argumentar dizendo que não sabia do esquema organizado por produtores free-lancers do programa. Da mesma forma, acusações ao seu concorrente Gilberto Barros apontavam a possibilidade de uma matéria exibida no Leão Livre ter sido forjada. A denúncia tratava do caso envolvendo traficantes atuando num cemitério do Rio. Em ambos, a Justiça foi acionada.

Ratinho tried to argue that he did not know of the scheme organized by freelance producers on the program. Similar accusations against his competitor, Gilberto Barros, pointed to the possibility that a segment shown on the Leão Livre program had been falsified. The charge had to do with a case involving drug trafficking in a Rio cemetery. In both cases, the law got involved.

O procurador-geral do estado de São Paulo, Luiz Antônio Guimarães Marrey, tão logo tomou conhecimento da investigação realizada pela Folha de São Paulo, fez uma representação contra o Programa do Ratinho. O promotor do estado, Clilton Guimarães Santos, foi além e, em 29 de outubro, deu entrada num processo visando suspender sua exibição e aplicar-lhe uma multa no valor de R$35 milhões. As declarações do promotor subentendiam a intenção de eliminar as atrações popularescas em nome da elevação do nível de qualidade na programação.

The state attorney of São Paulo, Guimarães Marrey, as soon as he heard of the Folha’s investigation, filed suit against Ratinho’s show. State prosecutor Guimarães Santos went even further: On October 29, he filed to have the program banned from the air and fined R$335 million. His statements implied an intention to eliminate “populist” shows in the name of elevating the level of program quality.

O resultado da intervenção judicial veio sob a forma da alteração do horário de exibição do programa. O Programa do Ratinho, apresentado pelo Sistema Brasileiro de Televisão (SBT), só poderá entrar no ar a partir das 21 horas e não às 20h30, como ocorre atualmente. A decisão foi tomada pela Diretoria de Classificação do Ministério da Justiça, atendendo a um pedido da própria emissora (…) A classificação para as 21 horas justifica-se, segundo a diretoria, pelo fato de o programa ter temática adulta e pelo desvirtuamento de valores éticos.

The result of the judicial intervention took the form of changing the program’s air time. The Ratinho Show on SBT could only air starting at 9 pm, and not at 8:30 pm, as before. The decision was taken by the Ratings Board of the Ministry of Justice, at the request of the broadcaster itself. The rating requiring the program to be aired after 9 pm was due to the fact, the board said, that it had adult themes and undermined ethical values.

Not, apparently, on the basis that it lied to the public, but on the basis of the “moral” content of the programming.

It almost seems as thought the authorities and the broadcaster have avoided dealing with the real issue by neatly translating it to the plane of moral panic.

As though honesty were not a legitimate ethical value shared, I would venture to guess, by the vast majority of naked apes on the planet, regardless of race, nationality or creed.

Should there be a law against lying to the public?

Or does the “free marketplace of ideas” — a notion often attributed to Milton, Mill and Oliver Wendell Holmes, none of whom actually supported the idea in the form often attributed to them — operate efficiently to correct such lies, as Ali Kamel recently suggested?

Until recently, I know very little about Opus Dei. Today, after all the heavy criticisms of this lay organization, I know a little more. That is what it is to live in a free country: You are assailed by partial, truncated information, which generates more of the same from the other side, and, in the course of the debte, you wind up learning more and being able to form an opinion.

Because Globo, like the Editora Abril, is a monopoly that refuses to give equal time to persons characterized by its reporting, this notion strikes one as grotesquely dishonest — presupposing as it does, even if you subscribed to the theory of the “free marketplace of ideas,” that such a free market actually exists in Brazil.

Equally grotesque: The notion that Globo’s market dominance is due entirely to the quality of its offerings.

Please. I actually watch this nonsense, you know.

There is hardly anything else on, in fact.

See

Anyway: Ought there to be a law?

Every libertarian bone in my body says hell, no.

Competition and open debate does function effectively to separate the signal from the noise. Under the right circumstances.

The more people you bring into that debate, equipped the knowledge and criticial thinking skills needed to participate effectively, the better.

Assuming that debate is permitted to exist.

It is with that important caveat that the issues gets more and more interesting, and complicated, if you watch any amount of Brazilian TV, or read Brazilian magazines. See

On a recent Globo TV program purporting to show a real event, but which could not possibly depict what the program — one of Globo’s flagship “news” shows — claims it depicts, see

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