It must be stated up front that television in Brazil is SOOOOO different than television in the US. Forget about the simple and stark difference that commercials dominate in the US and the actual programming dominates here. It is not uncommon here that a full 40 minutes of a movie is shown before the first commercial break. A mere three or four minutes of commercials and PSAs follow, then back for another 30 minutes of the movie.
The key reference in the last statement that really focuses on the culturally different aspect of television in Brazil is Public Service Announcements.
I’m not really keeping track, but it seems like about one third of the station breaks are for public service announcements. Lots of them. They focus on everything from not drinking and driving to how to breast feed your baby (complete with explicit video.)
The television is clearly being used as an instrument to educate the citizenry. Think about it – in as many as 8 states (out of 27 total) the illiteracy rate is above 15%, topping out at 21%. In the US 99% of people over 15 can read and write. Brazilians average 6.2 years of formal education (compared to 12 years in the US).
In spite of the widespread poverty (which goes way beyond what folks in the US consider poverty. Nearly 24% of families live on less than $2 a day) eighty eight percent of Brazilian households have a television.
It looks to me like television is a good vehicle for helping people get what they may have missed from the education system. And apparently it looks that way to the government and social service organizations as well.
There are several campaigns on the television to help educate people. They include the typical government messages to not smoke, not drink and drive, stay in school, etc. But there are others that go way beyond this to include quick cooking demonstrations for accessible, inexpensive, nutritious dishes; or how to extract breast milk and freeze it for future use; or encouragement to have your baby registered with the local municipality and obtain a birth certificate.
Here are some other topics in PSAs I’ve seen:
- Report and don’t tolerate corruption
- Various proper use of Portuguese “on the street” Q & As
- Reminders to take your political votes seriously because they matter
- Reject prejudice and racism
- Embrace those who are different from you (people with disabilities)
- Encouragement to be ethical and not cheat others or go around the law
- Various public health campaigns like using condoms or helping to eradicate Dengue
- Regular kids are doing extra ordinary things – be inspired!
In addition to traditional PSA messages the writers for the major novelas (hugely popular high budget evening soap operas – more like a US television mini series) write similar messages into the dialog of some characters, e.g. The wise grandmother tells her grandchild to wash the produce before cooking it, or the neighborhood busy body goes around scolding folks for not eliminating potential pools of standing water in their yards to help fight the mosquito that can infect you with Dengue Fever.
The television is clearly a tool for positive social impact. While I eschew the idiot box in general (or these days, the idiot flat screen) it’s nice to see it being consciously used for some good and not just another vehicle to get people to buy stuff.