Léo RamosResearch in the field of communication enjoys little academic prestige in Brazil. José Marques de Melo, for 40 years one of the fiercest advocates for its establishment in Brazil, doesn’t mince words when he says so. In part, he acknowledges, the situation is related to the special epistemological difficulties in the area—after all, even a century after it was established in the United States, that specialty, that science—which some regard as pseudo-science—has not been able to clearly identify its object. “The truth is, communication is not an autonomous field of research. Like all applied sciences, it incorporates contributions from other sciences—the physical sciences and the life sciences,” he observes.
In this interview with Pesquisa FAPESP, Marques talks about that strange and prolonged identity crisis that afflicts an area of activity that involves no fewer than 25,000 professors and 250,000 students in Brazil and is interwoven with his own professional career, a trajectory which, to researchers from well-established, fields may look like a series of zigzags. Marques de Melo reflects on political circumstances that interfered, more than would be desirable, in his university and personal life and relates some intriguing stories about this Brazilian who made his way from the backlands of Alagoas state to a post at Brazil’s most prestigious university.
In 1972, you were head of the Journalism Department of the ECA (School of Communication and Arts). And you were working to establish the field of research in communication in Brazil. I’d like you to talk about those beginnings.
The position was as director of the Journalism Department at the School of Cultural Communication, which later became the ECA. I consider myself to have been very fortunate because I had the opportunity to work with Luiz Beltrão, truly the pioneer in scientific research in communications in Brazil. When in 1961 he founded the journalism curriculum at the Catholic University of Pernambuco, he introduced a new element into the education of journalists in this country—introduction of the dimension of scientific research alongside professional practice.
|Communications and journalism|
|Catholic University of Pernambuco (undergraduate degree in journalism),|
Federal University of Pernambuco (undergraduate degree in pre-law and social sciences) e University of São Paulo (PhD)
|Methodist University of São Paulo|
Were you already a journalist at that point?
Yes, I began my career in Alagoas at the newspaper Gazeta de Alagoas, and later at the Jornal de Alagoas. I was an excellent journalist based in the interior regions, covering my city for the newspaper of the state capital.
I was born in Palmeira dos Índios, which was famous because one of its mayors was the writer Graciliano Ramos, although he actually lived in Santana do Ipanema. My father, a dealer in agricultural products, was in partnership with a transportation magnate who owned a bus line that ran between Palmeira dos Índios, which was served by a train, and Belmiro Gouveia, served by a different train that came from São Francisco. For a while he lived in Palmeira dos Índios, exactly during the time when my mother was pregnant with me—I’m the oldest of four children. Soon after, my mother moved to Santana do Ipanema. Well, to finish answering your question about how I got started in journalism: I covered events in Santana do Ipanema, those everyday happenings such as weddings, elections, political disputes, Mother’s Day, problems at the street market, or the school group that was disbanding. I experienced the conflict between reporting the facts the way the authorities wanted, or as I saw them. Rui Barbosa’s pamphlet A imprensa e o dever da verdade (The press and the duty of truth) became my bible.
Did your family oppose your becoming a journalist?
There were all sorts of reactions. When I said I wanted to take the college entrance exam for journalism, my father said I was looking for trouble and observed, furthermore, that college-level courses in journalism were offered only in São Paulo and in Rio and he couldn’t afford for me to study in southern Brazil. Resigned, I went to Recife to take the entrance exam in engineering as my family wanted. But I had no aptitude for engineering, I wasn’t good in math, physics, or chemistry. So I decided to study law. But on the day the results of the exam came out in the newspaper, what interested me most was a little item on the side that said that the Catholic University was going to establish a program in journalism. There was no question: I left the celebration going on among those who had passed the exam and went over to Catholic University to ask where the journalism courses would be given. The gentleman who spoke to me was Professor Luiz Beltrão (1918-1986). For two weeks I studied in the public libraries of Recife to prepare myself for the journalism exam, and I passed that one, too. Finally, I decided to study both law and journalism. At that time, the newly-created SUDENE (Superintendency for the Development for the Northeast) was about to hold a competitive examination to hire personnel. I took the test, passed it, and then took a six-month intensive course to qualify as an administration official. The course was given by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation and focused on two areas: the economy of the Northeast, and management in the Northeast. Those who already had a university diploma took the technical course in economic development, coordinated by an illustrious Bahian, Nailton Santos, brother of geographer Milton Santos. Then, at the end of the intensive course, I had the privilege of being assigned to work in the office of the superintendent, Celso Furtado. I studied law in the morning, arrived at SUDENE at noon and stayed until six, and then went to my journalism classes. It was a crazy schedule.
You tell a fascinating story related to specialized journalism there.
Yes. When I graduated, I went to work in the public relations and publishing division of SUDENE, where we produced magazines, bulletins, and newsletters. There were five or six of us journalists. From Luiz Beltrão, an excellent professor, I had learned the theoretical fundamentals of journalism. And for awhile I had been trained in the daily practice of journalism in Recife, at the newspaper Última Hora, which folded in 1964. There I learned about journalism from Milton Coelho da Graça, via the “shouting” method. Since I had once been a political activist coming from the JUC (Catholic University Youth), associated with the Catholic Left, and then joined the Communist Youth, associated with the Communist Party, I went to work for then-governor Miguel Arraes. I became the chief of staff for Germano Coelho, his secretary of education, when I was still in the first year of university and only 20 years old. Then I went to work for the Popular Culture Movement and was serving as its administrative director when the debacle of 1964 occurred. I went back to SUDENE and it is there that the incident that you remembered took place: I found myself assigned to write a report on the economy of the Northeast. The economists at SUDENE hated it, tore it up and threw it out. At first I was very depressed, but then I thought about it and realized that to some extent they were right: it’s impossible to do well in specialized journalism—economic or scientific, for example—if you’re not familiar with the subject matter, because you have to place yourself between the person who produced the knowledge and someone who doesn’t know much about it.
When did you decide to move to São Paulo?
After I overcame the problems of being arrested, the IPM (Military Police Inquiry) etc., because I had been part of the Arraes administration, I went back to university and graduated. In those earliest days of the dictatorship, anyone who was from the intellectual community was released right away, but they kept harassing you. Whenever there was an investigation in Recife, I was involved, so I just couldn’t continue living there. Before moving to São Paulo, I was lucky enough to win “honorable mention” in the Esso Prize competition, which made me somewhat well-known in Recife. And so, backed by Luiz Beltrão, I was awarded a study grant from UNESCO. I began a graduate program in journalism that was being given at the Ciespal (International Center for Advanced Studies in Journalism). I spent six months in Quito, Ecuador.
After you arrived in São Paulo, what was your first professional activity?
I arrived in July 1966 and joined the fray. I took a test at Editora Abril for a job on its magazine Realidade, and I passed. But a friend suggested that I work in public relations, a field where I would earn a lot more. I ended up at Inese (National Institute for Social and Economic Studies) for twice the salary I would have earned at Abril. It also happened that I had begun teaching in Pernambuco after Luiz Beltrão accepted an offer from the University of Brasília (UnB) to head their School of Communication. He passed his classes in Pernambuco on to me. For six months I was a professor, and enjoyed the experience. When I arrived here in São Paulo, I learned that the University of São Paulo (USP) was establishing the School of Cultural Communications. I found out that they were looking for professors so I went to see the director, Professor Julio Garcia Morejón, a Spaniard who was full professor of Spanish language and literature. He interviewed me and suggested that I sign up for the competitive exam.
Was there opposition at that time from the USP School of Philosophy and Human Sciences to the creation of the School of Communication?
The School of Philosophy ought to have accepted this new field of knowledge, but there was a group that didn’t want that. And so the wife of Chancellor Luís Antonio da Gama e Silva, Edi Pimenta da Gama e Silva, convinced her husband to establish the School of Cultural Communications. He formed a committee and called on some professors from the School of Philosophy to serve on it, and they organized the school. One of the committee members was Morejón, then a very enterprising young man, a member of the wing that was favorable to journalism and of a group that was not ideologically radical that included Professors Antonio Candido and Antônio Soares Amora, among others. The ones who rejected the idea were primarily conservatives associated with education, such as Roque Spencer Maciel de Barros and Laerte Ramos de Carvalho. I passed the first competitive exam, but it was some time before I was hired.
At that time, had the concept of communication developed in Brazil?
No, that didn’t happen until the 1970s.
The seminars given by Wilbur Schramm and Daniel Lerner, organized in 1970 by the UnB with support from the American Embassy were of landmark importance. But ever since the late 1960s, people had already been studying the works of Marshall McLuhan, isn’t that right?
No. McLuhan didn’t appear in Brazil until 1970, via Recife. The first to read them were Gilberto Freyre and Luiz Beltrão. Freyre, who had been using the press as a research source, read and publicized McLuhan’s first book, which few Brazilians were aware of: The mechanical bride: folklore of industrial man. He also analyzed newspapers and magazines, which were considered third-rate materials as a source of studies. And Luiz Beltrão read and publicized The Gutenberg galaxy. Then came The medium is the message. The man who would publicize McLuhan in the South—as northeasterners refer to Brazil south of Rio de Janeiro—was Anísio Teixeira, who wrote the preface to [the Portuguese translation of] The Gutenberg galaxy, and Décio Pignatari, who translated Understanding media: the extensions of Man, back in the late 1970s.
But let’s go back to your work at the ECA.
My going to USP was preceded by the arrival of Cásper Líbero. The ECA was just getting started in 1967 when the famous “strike by the leftovers”– students who had passed the college entrance exams but were shut out by a shortage of openings—broke out. And so I received an invitation from Líbero, who was establishing a chair for communication theory, later known as scientific fundamentals of communication. It was then that I suggested to the director that he establish a Center for Research in Social Communication.
You then had a clear notion that you were working toward a new field of research.
The founder of research in communication in Brazil was Luiz Beltrão, in Recife. When in 1963 he established the Institute of Information Science, he immediately began to carry out studies of the various means of communication. I produced there, under his guidance, an elementary scientific work on the reporting of police actions in the Northeastern press, including an analysis of content, measurements, etc. Later I did graduate work at Ciespal and was a student of Bruce Westley, Malcolm Maclean, and Joffre Dumazedier. By then I had already read the works of Wilbur Schramm and Daniel Lerner, authors who are of vital importance to the field of communication. I had, therefore, some notion of the field and the need to expand it. I think it is important always to point out that Beltrão made a significant introduction in Recife and then disseminated it throughout Brazil. It was he who created the first scientific journal in the area, Comunicações e Problemas (Communications and problems). Then, I set up the Cáspar Líbero center and began to conduct a series of research studies that were poorly received in academia.
Because of prejudice against the subject matter. I formed several teams, including one that studied the content of comic books. So people asked: “Comic books? All they are is junk…” I formed a group to analyze the Diário de São Paulo, since we were studying all the newspapers then in circulation. But the research that got the most criticism was about TV soap operas.
But didn’t the line of research into TV soap operas soon become a tradition at the ECA?
No, that didn’t happen until the 1990s. When I was director of the School, I found out that the courses in radio and television covered all sorts of topics, but not TV soap operas, the leading export product of our cultural industry. By ministerial directive I created a TV Soap Opera Study Unit and approached all the USP foundations to get funding for it, but without success.
In 1967, you founded the Cáspar Líbero center. And when did you start teaching at USP?
In May of 1967. Initially, three professors were hired to teach journalism: Flávio Galvão, a journalist from O Estado de São Paulo, José Freitas Nobre, who was a lawyer, and I, who had the job of supervising the two of them because I had a post-graduate degree and could work full-time at USP. That was when I had to make a choice.
Between the Líbero Center and USP?
No, between wealth and poverty. I was very well paid at Inese, but would earn only half as much at USP. I ended up staying there, the first time, from 1967 to 1974. Until 1972 I worked on establishing the Department of Journalism and Publishing and carried out a series of activities that combined research and professional development. But 1972 changed my life, because I was discovered by the intelligence services, and when the 4th Week of Journalistic Studies ended, I was prosecuted under Decree-Law 477 [which dealt with punishments, including expulsion of students and dismissal of professors and personnel accused of engaging in subversive activities at the university]. The reason for investigating me was a handout that I had written for students in 1968, entitled “Exercises for the lead,” and it had been circulated throughout Brazil. I was conducting my journalism classes the way the American professors do: talking about the lead, the definitions, etc. Then came the practical part; the students went to the newspapers to investigate those things. One of those classes on the “lead” [the term refers to the opening paragraph of a news item that, traditionally, should tell the reader the what, how, when, where, and why the thing happened that motivated that text] was given on the day after the death of student Edson Luís [the first student killed by the 1964 dictatorship, on March 28, 1968] at the Calabouço, the university restaurant in Rio de Janeiro. The subject the students used for the practical part of their work on the lead was the events of that day. This material was inserted into the handout, and even became news outside of Brazil, something I didn’t know about. My investigation was a Kafkaesque affair. The publication was immediately taken out of circulation at the ECA and I was found guilty. The commission that tried me here at USP, under then-chancellor Miguel Reale, recommended that I be dismissed and prohibited from teaching in Brazil for five years. It was a dramatic episode, but I am not accusing anyone, I mention Reale because he was the authority.
There was a system set up in the office of the chancellor; security agencies were on site there. The proceedings took all year. USP finally found me guilty and sent the case to the Ministry of Education, because the minister had to ratify the results. However, Minister Jarbas Passarinho said he would not impose a penalty in this case because he saw that the author was not a terrorist, and the decree was intended to combat terrorists. He pardoned me, but the university authorities would not accept this, and they retaliated. I was prohibited from leaving the country, removed as head of the department, and retained as simply a professor. And so I decided to dedicate myself full time to my doctoral dissertation. I wrote the dissertation in December 1972, defended it in February 1973, and became the first PhD in journalism in Brazil, which naturally made news. That was extremely irritating to the officials at USP and the security services. At that time, the ECA was under military intervention. The interventor who was appointed, Manuel Nunes Dias, was an agent of the repression and when the members of my panel were selected, he said he wanted to be included. The panel was composed of my advisor, Rolando Morel Pinto, plus Antônio Soares Amora, Julio Garcia Morejón, Virgílio Noya Pinto, and this Nunes Dias. My advisor had advised me not to react to him. He tore the dissertation apart. Basically he said that I was quoting Marxists and his main complaint was about historian Nelson Werneck Sodré. All the members of the panel except Nunes Dias gave me a grade of 10. But the persecution at the university was so severe that I was advised to leave the country. I asked FAPESP for a post-doctoral study grant and went to the United States. I spent a year there.
And what did you focus on?
Since post-graduate education was changing in Brazil, I decided to observe how post-graduate studies worked there, especially in journalism. When I returned to Brazil, the report was approved by FAPESP. But USP didn’t want to hear anything about it, and I was dismissed. Only later did I learn the circumstances: the commander of the Second Army had sent an order to USP to dismiss the most well-known communists. Marilene Chauí was the first on the list, followed by Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes. I was dismissed summarily, with no right to indemnification and no explanation whatsoever. I didn’t return until the 1979 Amnesty.
How did you survive during that period?
I had several invitations to leave Brazil, but my wife Sílvia didn’t want to leave. I gave classes at other universities, but it was very difficult to do so because the security agencies kept saying that I couldn’t teach. The Methodist Church was establishing a school of communications in São Paulo, and one of the pastors whom I had met in Recife asked me to work there. I went, and three months later, security agents came to put pressure on the chancellor. He had them expelled from the site because it was a house of God, where he could choose whoever he wanted to work there.
And who was that brave chancellor?
His name was Benedito de Paula Bittencourt; he was a member of the Federal Council of Education. He called me in and reassured me. I promised to bring him both books I had written, asked him to read them, and assured him that I would resign if he found anything compromising in them. Two months later he called me in and said that there was no problem at all, but I shouldn’t proselytize in the classroom. And so I survived from my work at the Methodist University of São Paulo. I was able to work and, soon after, set up the post-graduate courses. I put together a teaching staff composed of people who came back from abroad. I accepted professors such as Fernando Perrone, who had been living in exile in France, and Paulo José, exiled to Canada. Soon the post-graduate curriculum at Methodist University won a top rating from the Coordinating Agency for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel – Capes. It was recognized throughout Brazil. I established the journal Comunicação e Sociedade, which was more or less a successor to Beltrão’s journal that had been published from 1967 until, if I’m not mistaken, the late 1970s. But there were other publications in the field. The ECA itself had the Revista da Escola de Comunicações Culturais, and the newspaper Jornal do Brasil had its Cadernos de Jornalismo.
How did you reconcile your various places of employment during that phase?
It was a huge juggling act. I published the first research projects done at the Líbero center in the book Comunicação social – Teoría e pesquisa (Social communication – theory and research), which was the first best-seller in the field of communication in Brazil. It sold 20,000 copies, and went through six successive printings. The only reason it didn’t remain in print was that after awhile, the empirical part of the research papers became outdated, and so I asked the publisher to cease publication. I was planning to rewrite it, but I have never rewritten any book. I’ve written more than 20 books–I’ve lost count–and have compiled or coordinated about 70 others.
You’ve been carrying your experience with you from one institution to another, right?
Yes. For example, I brought from Recife to USP all the experimentation with newspapers that Beltrão had done, but with one advantage: money. Here at USP it was possible to have a newspaper laboratory, instead of a guinea-pig newspaper, dissecting the existing newspapers and making a recommendations about how to make them better. Incidentally, the first task that Morejón assigned me was exactly that—to set up a newspaper laboratory. I presented a plan, put together the structure, and we began to import the equipment. Until the printing equipment arrived, we had to use private services. We couldn’t publish anything at other USP institutions because of the censorship. Our first practical experiment was the result of a suggestion by Freitas Nobre. We held an International Seminar on Research in Radio and Television in May 1968 and invited some celebrities to come and talk about research on the media. These included Edgar Morin, Roberto Rosselini, and Andres Guevara. The only problem was that its timing coincided with May 1968 movement. When our group arrived at the ECA, the students wouldn’t let them in. They were on strike and occupying the building. UNESCO had invested a lot and Itamaraty had as well, and we were at an impasse. But Lupe Cotrim, who was a darling of the students, decided to go and talk with them. She argued that this was not a class, that they would have the opportunity to hear alternative opinions and could even set up a news agency. And so the first laboratory experiment at the ECA was the university news agency. The students covered the seminar and produced a daily bulletin that was provided to the press all over Brazil.
And your experiences with research at USP?
I established a Center for Research in Journalism to analyze journalism in general, neighborhood newspapers, etc. The biggest difficulty we had originally was the lack of a full-time teaching staff. Journalists didn’t want to dedicate themselves only to teaching and research. But little by little, we started training a generation that was interested in teaching, research, and outreach. In this latter area, for example, we had hired two professors, one in layout and another in photojournalism. The first was Hélcio Deslandes, an architect and artist known for his cover designs, who came to us from the advertising business. He taught the students to approach layout in accordance with the best trends of the era. Anyone who looks at the laboratory newspapers from the ECA during those years will see some very beautiful things.
And what about photojournalism?
Our photojournalist was Thomaz Farkas, who graduated in electronic engineering from Poli [Polytechnical School of USP] but was a photographer who was passionate about the cinema. He was also owner of the Fototica chain of stores. He gave classes in which he ordered the students to start by going to the Pinheiros farmers’ market or some other place and take pictures. After they returned, he gave the theoretical classes—an approach that was very severely criticized at the time. They wanted me to get rid of him. One day, Farkas disappeared. He had been arrested. As head of the department, I was supposed to sign an affidavit reporting that he hadn’t shown up for work. But instead I exhibited a signed time card. We had rotated professors so that every day one of them gave a class in his place. And that was how we proceeded until Farkas was released. Not only was he a professor, he was an ECA benefactor. He gave the ECA as a gift the “design” for the laboratory that the university purchased, and was also assigned to implement that kind of initiative. Ultimately, however, five of us professors in the Journalism Department were stripped of our political rights: Freitas Nobre, Farkas, Jair Borin, Sinval Medina, and I.
When did you go back to the ECA?
I went back in 1979, thanks to the Amnesty Law. The department had been destroyed. The last of our professors to be victimized was Vladimir Herzog, who had been hired to give classes in telejournalism when he was killed. Our return was not at all peaceful. The teaching staff had been changed during the Manuel Nunes Dias administration and if it hadn’t been for the insistence by certain professors who were in favor of the return of those who had been stripped of their rights, we would not have gone back. By then, José Goldemberg was chancellor and he rehired us. But since the Diário Oficial had reported only that our contracts had been terminated, not indicating that we’d been stripped of our rights, I had to start my entire career in terms of seniority and pay grade over again. A few years later I regained my salary as full professor. I stayed until 1993, when I retired. My purpose during that period was, first of all, to rebuild the Journalism Department. I also brought back the “journalism weeks.” The first one was about Marx and journalism, a topic chosen by the students. I remember that during the first Journalism Week, in 1969, we had discussed sensationalism and there was a lot of uneasiness involved in tackling that subject at USP. We brought in Romão Gomes Portão, editor of Última Hora, and Talma de Oliveira, an editor of Notícias Populares who dramatized news reports on the radio, and so on. But we also brought in Alberto Dines and an as yet unknown Friar Evaristo, a Franciscan monk, who was working in the Prison Ministry at São Paulo’s Carandiru penitentiary. On the final day, they were going to talk about yellow journalism from the ethical standpoint, and all the invited speakers had arrived except the friar. We decided to start without him, but from the audience the monk raised his hand, stood up, and introduced himself as Paulo Evaristo Arns. He was now auxiliary bishop in São Paulo, but I didn’t know that. Two months later he was appointed archbishop and cardinal. It was after this “week” that the Jornal do Campus began to circulate for the first time.
And the Jornal do Campus continued until when?
Until it published an article entitled “The maharajahs of USP.” Bernardo Kucinski had taken over as editor-in-chief and discovered, from payroll records, that some personnel were receiving two salaries. He published the names and caused a huge uproar. They called me into the chancellor’s office and notified me that they were cancelling the subsidy for that newspaper. The university established the Jornal da USP to replace it. At the time, I actually took their side because I was head of the department and had to defend the freedom of the press. But now, taking a closer look, I know that if we had checked further we would have found out that the double salary was not illegal. It was the so-called night work bonus. Everyone who had been giving classes during a single shift and started giving them at night had their salaries doubled.
When did you go back to the Methodist University?
After I retired, I received an invitation to establish the UNESCO Chair in Communication in Brazil. The Methodist University had already invited me to establish the doctoral program. And so I went back to establish the doctoral program in communications and took on the UNESCO project as well. I have been working on that ever since. I want to retire next year, when I turn 70. I want to have time free to write.
What conclusions can you draw about research in communication in today’s Brazil?
Actually, I’m very critical. This is a field that has grown a lot; in 2013 we will celebrate our 50th anniversary and Brazil now ranks second in number of research projects—only the United States is ahead of us, and it has a 100-year tradition. We have funds, we have 250,000 students, 25,000 professors, and a lot of PhDs. We have a significant presence at international conferences, we rank second in the number of papers selected for the leading international event in our field, the International Association of Media and Communication Research, but Brazilian research has not been able to take off in terms of leadership. And why not? The first reason is that we lack intellectual self-esteem. The field does not yet have its own identity We are working with objects that are increasingly closer to giving us an identity, but we haven’t acknowledged it. And there are only a few Brazilian researchers who are concerned about this situation—Muniz Sodré and Maria Immacolata Vassalo Lopes, for example. Communication is not an autonomous field of research. Like all applied sciences, it incorporates contributions from other sciences—the physical sciences and the life sciences.
There are some, like Muniz Sodré, who would argue that the object of that science, shall we say, is the communicational relationship.
There are various theories about that and I believe that the object is a little broader than the mere relationship. In institutional terms, the field has two divisions: interpersonal communications, which come from rhetoric, from psychology, behavior, and education; and mass communication, which has a basically journalistic tradition and then expands into advertising and public relations. In the United States, the field is bifurcated: you have the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the National Communication Association, which involves rhetoric, languages, interpersonal communication, debate…
Is the effort that groups like the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) are making to coordinate communication and culture also a search for an identity?
We have various ways to create an identity other than based on the object. Cultural studies are attempting to disengage themselves from the mass communication object in search of something that’s a bit nobler.
But does the poor self-esteem that you attribute to the researchers in communication stem from this doubt about the object, or from paltry academic recognition?
I think it comes from insufficient academic recognition. My diagnosis is that communication continues to be the poor cousin of the humanities and social sciences as applied here in Brazil because we always find one association challenging the other’s qualifications, when we should be united, fighting for resources for the entire field rather than for only segments of it.
But besides the institutional problems, there are deep theoretical divisions.
I think the problem is more taxonomic than theoretical. There hasn’t been much progress in Brazil in communication theory.
Several post-graduate programs have had trouble surviving because of low Capes scores. How is that?
That problem has not yet been resolved; in fact the field of communications doesn’t even have an international interface. There was, as I see it, an attempt by emerging regions, led by Bahia, to assume a position of national leadership as a counterpoint to the two biggest research centers, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The personnel from Bahia are very reputable, they have very good people, but they lack the historical comprehension that would help them deal with the problem. The ECA and the ECO (School of Communications) were schools that trained almost the entire generation of researchers in communication who are now active in this country, but as they became bigger and bigger, they lost the characteristics that satisfy the requirements set by the research-sponsoring agencies. When I was director of the ECA, I began an effort to decentralize the post-graduate courses, which had a thousand students at the time. We reduced the number in order to become more selective. We sought to subdivide the post-graduate curriculum into several programs, but unfortunately that did not work out. Now the plan that we established in the early 1990s is beginning to make a comeback, We had implemented post-graduate courses in cinema, and in library economics, similar to what existed in the arts, where theatre, the fine arts and music were and still are separate projects, each with its own identity. Only a reorganization along those lines can succeed, because communication is everything; it’s not nothing.
Other than those Brazilians whom you’ve already mentioned during this interview, who are your favorite theoreticians in communication?
I don’t know that I can talk about preferences, because I have always sought to be philosophically independent. My favorite authors over all those years have been Raymond Nixon and Fernand Terrou. Some colleagues of my generation with whom I felt a great affinity were Herbert Schiller and George Gerbner, in the United States, and, among the French, Bernard Miege.
And how is your relationship with Barbero?
It’s a good relationship, but not that intimate. I am quite averse to the cult of personalities. I think Barbero is a very valuable researcher, but worshipped to such an extent that even he doesn’t feel comfortable about it. Under the UNESCO Chair program, I have promoted a series of seminars intended to increase the impact of Latin American thought. I started with Luis Ramiro Beltrán, who is the father of national policies on communication, and then Jesús Martin-Barbero, with the theory of mediations, Eliseo Verón…I have brought in all these people because I think the younger generation needs to become familiar with the different trends in the field.
What kind of relationship is there between your views of communication in general and the field of scientific journalism?
Communication makes sense only when it serves to build something. Journalism is essential in order for us to understand what is happening in the contemporary world and what is occurring around human beings, in their communities, in society. Scientific journalism in particular is a vital field because it is an area in which knowledge is democratized. It is where journalism stands as a form of knowledge.
What has been your greatest contribution to the field of communications in Brazil?
That to which I have been dedicating my efforts for almost 50 years, and most attentively, are the journalistic genres. I have a proposal for classifying the genres in this country into five categories: informative, opinionative, interpretive, utilitarian or service-oriented, and the entertaining journalism which, mistakenly in my opinion, they call “literary journalism.” We live in a society in which hedonism predominates and journalists would rather write the kind of story that is more attractive to the ordinary reader, something that doesn’t just recount the events of the day, hence the “entertaining journalism.” My oldest writing in this regard is the thesis I wrote at USP in order to get my livre-docência [teaching] degree. It was initially published as Opinião no jornalismo brasileiro (Opinion in Brazilian journalims), and then republished, with a few revisions, as Jornalismo opinativo (Opinionative journalism).In it, basically, I studied only opinionative texts. And now I’m writing a book, which I’m not sure I’m going to finish, about journalistic genres in Brazil. It’s a herculean task, I’ve done only 30% of it and would need to stop now in order to research the subject. I want to start with Hipólito da Costa and continue up to what journalism is today. I want to move from the press of the 19th century, when it begins to become a business, to the press of the 20th century, when it became an industry, and then cover the press as it is today.
That book, then, bears the burden of an ambition to be the great history of journalism in Brazil.
When I delivered my proposal for full-time work at USP, I submitted a project on the development of journalism in Brazil. And when I wrote my doctoral dissertation, I was already talking about the reasons why the press has lagged behind in Brazil. I’ve been working on that for years.