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Public Television: New Challenges for Latin America

For a week, the meeting called Mini Input & Prix Jeunesse was held in Colombia. A world-class event that brought together more than ten experts from around the world in public, children's and youth television.

The Input (International Public Television) is an event that brings together producers and public television channels in which the exchange of experiences and knowledge of the participants is sought. The Mini Input is made under the same parameters for a region or a country, and there different works made for public television of several countries of the world are discussed and projected.

The Prix Jeunesse , on the other hand, is a foundation created in 1964 in Germany that pursues the purpose of improving the quality of children's and youth television. Within its activities, it holds a festival every two years to reward the best of these genres in the world. In addition, the Foundation "packs a suitcase" with the best of each Festival so that each interested region knows it. In Latin America this suitcase has passed through Mexico, Bolivia, Chile and Brazil.

Within the framework of this event, TV&Video contacted Burkhard Althoff, Commissioning editor of the Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen channel (ZDF) in Germany, Teresa Otondo, Director of the International Relations Department of TV Cultura in Brazil and Bernardo Toro, member of the Board of Directors of Cenpro TV in Colombia, to discuss the issue.

TV&Video: What is Public Television like in your country?

- Publicidad -

Burkhard Althoff: In Germany, Public Television has two channels, ARD, which is made up of a group of regional stations and ZDF, which is a national channel founded in 1962. The two capture 40% of the audience and broadcast 24 hours a day. The fact that there is Public TV means that you do not have to orient yourself to sell things, in Germany this television has the very clear task of offering information, as far as possible objective, educational and entertaining with quality, and in that it is distinguished from commercial TV, since it, the only challenge he has is to sell in order to survive.

Teresa Otondo: The public television system in Brazil is distributed like this: the Federal Government has a station that broadcasts by satellite for the whole country and each region (the 23 states of Brazil) has its educational and cultural television, subordinated to the Government of the region, and to the public money given to it by the State. TV Cultura was born in a different way and that is what makes it original and allows you to experiment. In 1969, the governor of the State of São Paulo decided to create a television to educate the people, but it occurred to him that a state television would not do that function correctly, so he created by law a Private Law Foundation, with subsidies from the State, but with statutes that would guarantee independence and autonomy from the government. Since 1992 we have satellite transmission. Thanks to this, all the regional educational networks began to take our signal to retransmit it, which helped them because these stations have a very small production power. Because of this experience, we indirectly ended up competing with the Federal Government so we have had to think about making some alliances to join the efforts of the two channels and in this way people have better programming.

Bernardo Toro: It must be said that public television is one that can submit to the consideration and analysis of society those problems that suit everyone in the same way. Within this, some attempts of public television in Colombia are: the transmission of the discussions of the parliament and, the efforts to try to inform and train the opinion on how to use the instruments of citizenship. Another attempt, which although it has not been very developed is important, is to educate consumers about their rights to demand quality and price in products and, finally, to try to make people understand certain political decisions that affect them, such as taxes, justice, etc. The problem is that these agendas have not been projected in the long term.

TV&V: How is Public Television done in your country?

B.A.: In the news and in the information fields there is a team that always works in the station. In the field of fiction, such as soap operas and films, and entertainment, we usually work with production companies. In Germany there are small producers and others very powerful, which made the government make a strong economy of this field.

In the ZDF the programming is mixed: newscasts, entertainment, soap operas, etc. The phenomenon anyway is that there are more and more specialized chains. For example, we have one where only programs for children are broadcast, this channel is the result of what the two public channels produce. There is also a channel that broadcasts only lectures, documentaries, news and one of only art, they are a kind of branches that have opened public channels.

T.O.: In principle we have all the internal production, but due to the high costs, especially in documentaries, we have begun to look for independent production companies. The difficulty in this case is the editorial control of the program, since we must take care that our guideline and focus is not lost. On the other hand, we have decided over the years, to leave the purely educational field to develop a broader program that can serve the entire population and not only schools. Today TV Cultura has 20 hours of daily programming, 8 hours dedicated to children and young people, 4 hours dedicated to journalism and, in addition, we have educational, cultural, documentary, sports and film programs.

- Publicidad -

B.T.: The origin of public television has to come out of an agenda that marks the main problems that are required in the development of an educational act on the whole society, for example the conformation of certain policies, the processes of inclusion and exclusion of different sectors of society, understanding of fundamental services. In short, to be able to provide society with understandings and forms of action so that it can appropriate and understand public institutions.

TV&V: With what resources is it produced?

B.A.: In Germany, public television is financed by society. That is, each person who has a TV must pay about $ 15 dollars. This, in a town of 80 million people, means enough money to subsidize public channels. In addition, these networks can broadcast advertising between five in the afternoon and eight at night, but without interrupting the films to broadcast advertising. However, these incomes are actually very low.

On the other hand, there is the possibility for producers who work for us to go to foundations to seek co-financing. You have to know that Germany is divided into Federal States and they have a policy of attracting the audiovisual industry, for example if a producer is going to make a film, they say "we give you half a million marks, but you have to reinvest it here", so they are going to use people and resources from that place, it is reinvested, but even in greater quantity.

T.O.: Over the years, the State subsidies that are voted on annually by the House are not enough to subsidize Public TV. So for years advertising has been resorting, but with many restrictions; you can not have ads that induce consumption, any action command is prohibited: buy, drink, eat, etc., no toys, alcohol, chewing gum, etc. are allowed. We make harsher announcements, such as the name of the speaker, an eight-second sentence that says a quality of the company or the product and no more. We also have a part of services that contribute money, for example sale of programs, the service "Red Empresa", where we are hired to make teleconferences, the rental of equipment and we have the service of licensing of products that we create from our programs.

B.T.: Public television has to be managed with budgets independent of the simple avatar of what the programmers can afford. I believe that public television is a task that suits the State to generate governance and commitment to institutions, so it must be an important point in communicative investment.

- Publicidad -

Many of the resources, in the case of Señal Colombia (State Television Channel), come from funds of Inravisión (National Institute of Radio and Television), which is the programmer of the State, which already separates it from the field of public television because in this way it loses autonomy. It is the politics and the way in which the channel is conceived that makes the channel public, many of the public televisions are financed with private money, but the policy is public. Even in some countries this TV is paid by the same viewers who prefer to pay to have adequate and independent public information and training, for example, for a long time the BBC worked with that model.

TV&V: What possibilities do you see for Public Television in Latin America?

B.A.: I think it is important within the media to have the possibility of an independence from the commercial field, it is good to have these commercial spaces, but if that is the only thing there is I think what it creates is a monoculture. This also endangers the concept of civil society because for this society the most important thing cannot be to buy and sell, the media have a great influence on the thought, culture and ideology of the people, which means that this type of criteria must be taken care of. The problem will always be how to finance this television, because if the money comes from taxes the link with the State is very close and that is dangerous. For example, in Spain when the government changes, all the people who are working on TV also change and that cannot be, because that would be a state channel; we are talking about giving money to a public television that is monitored and controlled by different actors in society who can take care that there is plurality. That is the important thing and hopefully it will be possible in Latin America.

T.O.: I think the potential is very great, what is missing is to know each other better as professionals, to know our programs and that is where it seems to me that this type of events, advance a very important step for the creation of alliances, the strengthening of public television and the defense of quality programming.

B.T.: Countries like Brazil have already discovered that if they want to carry out large projects of social benefit, important reforms in education, health and environmental management, public television is needed. This example begins to open up good possibilities and even in Colombia there have already been some attempts, what happens is that it has not become a policy.

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