SAR, Vol 14 No 2, March 1999
PORTUGAL MAKES A COME-BACK
BY MARCUS POWER
Marcus Power is in the Geography Department of Leeds University.
On May 14, 1998 Mozambican prime-minister Pascoal Mocumbi addressed the 38th assembly of the Union of Radio and Television organizations of Africa (URTNA) warning delegates not to accept the transformation of their organizations into "an instrument that turns our continent into a simple receptacle of signals that the world transmits to it." The Mozambican prime-minister has spoken in this and other presentations given to the Southern African Broadcasting Association (SABA) and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) of his vision of African broadcasters as "catalyzers and dynamizers for peace" who act as agents of social and cultural development on the continent.
The media marketplace
Mozambique has a particularly distinguished record of precisely this kind of socially and culturally dynamic media organization in the spheres of radio, TV and cinema. However, with the beginning of media privatization in Mozambique in the early 1990s and the resulting escalation in Portuguese media ownership this record and the aspirations that lay behind it now look to be increasingly under threat. Indeed, the deregulation and liberalization of the media since the beginning of the 1990's has allowed Portugal (and, we will also see, the Portuguese language) to gain an increasingly powerful hold over Mozambican electronic media outlets.
The initial programme of deregulation and privatization was closely tied to the beginning of multi-party democracy in Mozambique - through the belief that a more relaxed media environment with foreign private investment would ensure not only improved infrastructure but also more choice and greater media impartiality. Thus, constitutional revisions in 1990 and new media legislation in 1993 saw government commitments to state broadcasting agencies were scaled down, the scope of the Ministry of Information reduced and foreign and private sector investment encouraged. And many observers have pointed to an increase in the choice and diversity of radio stations in the country as one beneficial consequence of these developments. In 1993, for example, there were three stations in the country and the media landscape was heavily dominated by Rádio Moçambique (RM). By January 1996, however, 11 "national" radio stations had been registered a number which had increased to 14 stations by May 1998, among them Rádio VOR of RENAMO and two international broadcasting organizations RFI (France) and RDP (Portugal).
Nonetheless, a range of doubts has also been raised about the implications of encouraging foreign private sector involvement in a country which has had insufficient time to develop national broadcasting capacity and technical skills. In Mozambique the Ministério da Informação has given way to a smaller, arguably weaker Gabinete da Informação, the State's direct support for national media production has been slowly scaled down and foreign media corporations (particularly from Portugal) have increased the countries dependence on international markets. Social and cultural dynamics have seemingly taken second place to the principles of the market.
Portugal ... and Portuguese
At the centre of recent transformations in the Mozambican audio-visual media and of the controversy that has sometimes surrounded them is an accord signed in May 1995 between the Mozambican and Portuguese governments (worth an estimated US$60 million) which defined protocols of co-operation between the two in the area of national communication in Mozambique. The protocols were associated with wider Portuguese foreign aid and development assistance packages and enunciated objectives included the improvement of broadcasting infrastructure, professional training and technical capacity. And they have implications for both national radio and TV broadcasting, bringing Radio Mozambique and TVM into close cooperation with their Portuguese counterparts, Rádio Difusão Portuguesa (RDP) and Rádio Televisão Portuguesa (RTP).
Many media professionals have remained wary of increasing dependence on foreign technology and investment, these trends evoking for some historical memories of Portuguese colonialism. (It has been difficult, for example, to forget the origins of RDP in the Rádio Clube Português which became a key agent of propaganda dissemination nationally and internationally for the Fascist dictatorship of the Estado Novo!) Nonetheless, in the area of radio broadcasting alone this accord has provided three 10kW FM transmitters and a variety of "technical support" for Mozambican professionals. The largest urban areas Maputo, Beira and Nampula benefited first from the installation of the new transmitters. With the provision of six new transmitters with a 50kW capacity donated by Germany RM services are now more widely available in Cabo Delgado, Nampula, Inhambane, Manica, Niassa and Tete. These MW transmitters will by the end of 1998 reach about 80% of each province during the day.
In addition, and despite the improvements to infrastructure and technical capacity in radio-broad-casting which have come as a consequence of the new climate of escalating foreign investment and private sector prioritization, the wider implications for the diversity of Mozambican cultural expression have also been questioned on other grounds. For the fact remains that the extension of MW and FM radio availability has not - despite some limited efforts to expand broadcasting in the full range of Mozambican languages - significantly advanced the position of programming in these more widely spoken languages. As a result, the Portuguese language has tended to be further privileged.
Debates will continue about the precise significance of this latter development. Still, as Brazão Mazula has argued, one of the "marks of colonialism" that remain in Mozambique is "contempt for Mozambican languages" which still are not used widely in the schools, even in rural areas where the vast majority of the population do not speak Portuguese. Careful consultation with experienced communications workers would have revealed that many feared a `bombardment' of Portuguese culture and information. For many, the continuing dominance of Portuguese over other Mozambican languages and the use of Mozambican audiences in the "defense" of Portuguese language and culture (see below) has to be questioned. Fortunately, Orlanda Mendes of Rádio Moçambique has recently argued that the organization must create conditions so that information is written more directly in the variety of national languages, and of a quality at least equal to the information that is now so widely available in Portuguese. Enhanced support for an expansion of this type of programming would undoubtedly have a `dynamizing' effect on social and cultural development in Mozambique.
Television, for whom?
The above-mentioned accord with Portugal has also had important implications for television in Mozambique, with closely related contradictions to those discussed above also beginning to be visible in that sphere. Thus, the accord of co-operation has put in place new transmitters in Lichinga and Ilha de Mocambique and has aimed to improve existing TV centres in Beira and Maputo with new centres being created in Quelimane and Pemba. A new TV production centre has been established in Maputo (costing US$7 million) and new transmission facilities have been established in Maputo. According to Botelho Moniz head of TVM this initiative will "bring TV to the country and the country to TV." And yet the question of popular access to TVM remains, particularly since the introduction of a private Cable TV service in late 1998. The geography of access to television in Mozambican society is still highly uneven and TV broadcasting continues to primarily produced in Portuguese, supported by increasing volumes of Portuguese finance and technical support which retains a distinctly "neo-colonial" (not to mention market-driven) flavour.
RTP Africa and RTP Internacional are services offered by RTP's international directorate which have targeted audiences in the former African colonies and have been able to call on the support of the Portuguese state in their penetration of African TV markets. Although some attempts at co-production with African "partners" are made, Portugal, its history, economy and culture, is never far from centre-stage. In tandem with the objectives of the Portuguese State these services have aimed to (re)establish important cultural and economic ties that were severed by the termination of colonial rule in 1974. Similar accords of co-operation have been established between Portugal and Cabo Verde, Sao Tome e Principe, Angola and Guinea-Bissau though by far the largest investment has been made in Mozambique. According to Manuel Roque, the President of RTP, the provision of RTP and RTPi in Africa arms the former imperial power with "two of the most important instruments available to the Portuguese State in the defense of its language and its culture in these countries"!
When the ONJ, a national journalists organization in Mozambique, first staged a debate on the broadcasts of RTPi and RDPi in November 1995 questions were immediately raised by a number of Mozambican journalists about the government's evaluation of the political, cultural and social impact of the accord on Mozambican society. Many participants articulated a feeling that they had been excluded and omitted from any form of consultation with the government despite the group's considerable experience. Carlos Cardoso, a key figure in the transformation of Mozambique's print media noted of FRELIMO at the time that "it [consultation] is a habit they don't have but they ought to begin to develop." A concern for national interests and national identities was voiced by many delegates who seemed concerned to defend national culture and spoke of a loss of " Moçambicanidade." Many journalists also pointed out that the signing of this accord of co-operation has irrevocably tilted the "balance of communication" between Portugal and Mozambique. According to Gabriel Simbine writing in Noticias at the time "it's a unidirectional movement, from Portugal to Mozambique. We are simply bombarded by Portuguese culture and information."
Not that this opinion is shared by all Mozambicans in the media organizations directly involved in the agreement, RM and TVM. Successive Presidents of the administrative councils of these two organizations have pointed to the resultant improvements to technical capacity (echoing the language of RDP/RTP). But note, as well, that the accord also fits with the World Bank's plans for a structurally adjusted Mozambique driven by precisely this kind of foreign "private" investment with implications for technical capacity and infrastructure.
The Bank often states its commitment to social and cultural development in Africa but it is difficult to see where the "development" benefits of privatization of state media production lie in a country that has had one the most widely respected records on the continent for radical and innovative approaches to "broadcasting for development." The goal should be broader than simply promoting economic efficiency but should also include broadening the distribution of access to media resources in a country where this still remains profoundly uneven. As noted earlier, privatization is highly unlikely to expand access to broadcasting in Mozambican languages other than Portuguese. Indeed, on this and other grounds, it seems more generally that privatization as presently defined is incompatible with the objective of increased accessibility and that a much stronger regulatory framework will be needed to oversee and direct media restructuring to serve wider social and cultural interests.
* * *
In 1997 the BBC began 24 hour FM transmissions in English and Portuguese from a 1kW transmitter in Matola. Like RDP, RTP and RFI before them the BBC quoted "professional education and technical assistance" as the justification for its entry into the field. The service, which broadcasts three times a day in Portuguese and the remainder in English, is currently being extended to Beira and Nampula. Once again the government was quick to express its support for this externally-sponsored initiative, with President Joaquim Chissano, rather surprisingly, commending the BBC for the way in which FRELIMO had used the service to wage its struggle for national liberation! At the inauguration of the transmitter in Matola, Chissano claimed the BBC would respect the realities and culture of Mozambicans, allowing the country to face the challenges of globalization by "emphasizing and reinforcing learning of the English language." President Chissano's vision of broadcasting and culture in Mozambique thus seemed at odds with the view of African "social and cultural dynamism" outlined by his Prime-Minister Pascoal Mocumbi and cited at the outset of this article. But this merely reinforces the question posed by our broader survey of recent initiatives in the spheres of radio and television (and also cinema: see accompanying box): just how consistent is the government's view of the cultural implications of structural adjustment and of wider processes of globalization for Mozambicans?
THE LUSOMUNDO CASE
The emerging presence of the Portuguese media giant Lusomundo in Mozambican cinema provides a useful example of the prioritization of large-scale, foreign capital over indigenous medium and small scale investors that current Mozambican policies favour and of the inequalities of access that this produces on the ground. Formed in 1953 primarily as a film distribution company, Lusomundo has since expanded and diversified into exhibition and gone multimedia in the 1980's producing a major upsurge of Lusomundo group profits to 55 million Esc. in 1998. Now the biggest communications group in Portugal, the organization owns the Portuguese daily newspapers Journal de Noticias and Diario de Noticias and has also formed what its annual report calls "strategic alliances" with distribution groups UIP (which includes Universal, Paramount, MGM-UA), Disney, Columbia and Time-Warner for cinema exhibition in Angola and Mozambique.
Lusomundo purchased the Xenon theatre in Maputo in 1996 and also now rents the Gil Vicente theatre in the capital city, one of the country's largest and historically most important theatres. Lusomundo enlisted the support of the Portuguese embassy in Maputo and put substantial pressure on the Mozambican government, marginalizing several Mozambican investors who also submitted bids. Eldorado Dabula, one of the unsuccessful bidders told Noticias at the time that the area where the Xenon is situated is a "privileged zone" for the Portuguese due to its proximity to the Portuguese embassy and cultural centre and he accused the Portuguese of wanting to turn the area into "a specimen of little Portugal." At the time of acquisition Lusomundo allegedly warned competitors with bids for the Xenon that rival companies would never receive Lusomundo-translated films. According to Paulo Cavalheiro, Lusomundo's Director of Operations, "Lusomundo has a heritage at the level of films that nobody else in the Lusophone communities has ...." This "heritage," combined with Lusomundo's support from the Portuguese State and the organization's established capacity to generate Portuguese subtitles meant that the market for the Xenon and more generally for the privatization of cinema theatres in Mozambique was never really a "free market."
The result? Despite relatively low prices to begin with, ticket prices in two of the largest theatres in the capital city have since become relatively unaffordable to the majority. Mozambican investors have been marginalized by Lusomundo and the strategic alliances it has established in North America. And, perhaps most important of all, the Instituto Nacional de Cinema (INC) has become a peripheral organization, fighting bankruptcy in its attempts to adjust to new relationships with foreign capital while also becoming increasingly dependent on international development agencies for funds. As in many other areas of the Mozambican media, these developments signal a rather radical departure from the popular revolution in social communication that began with socialist transformation after independence. Then, cinema production, distribution and exhibition co-ordinated by the INC was re-organized to meet the needs of regions and social groups ignored in colonial times. Now, however, the objective of increasing national production which reflects national culture and identities has given way to a promotion of foreign private sector involvement and investment which, more often than not, has failed to deliver enhanced access and participation. Privatization has not promoted equality of access or equality of opportunity and financial support from the State has been withdrawn from organizations who have had distinguished records of innovation in "social communication."
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.