Marinho’s importance was underlined by the three official days of mourning announced by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
That was despite a long-standing fued caused by Marinho’s channel airing a heavily edited crucial debate, which cost Lula the Presidency in the first free elections in 1989 after the fall of the military dictatorship.
President Lula said on the day of Marinho’s death “Brazil has lost a man who spent his life believing in Brazil.” Yet, just three weeks after the funeral, Lula admitted for the first time that he had been “robbed” of the highest office, but refrained from fingering Marinho personally.
Marinho began his career when his father died of a heart attack, and he took control of the Rio-based daily newspaper, O Globo. He expanded into radio, which aided the military coup of 1964. TV Globo was launched one year later, its news bulletins full of praise for the ‘economic miracle’ of the generals and ignoring the clamouring street protests for democracy.
In a swathe of epithets to Marinho, politicians chose their words carefully but all agreed his impact on the history of Brazil was immense.
“He was a man who played to win and won,” said culture minister Gilberto Gil, who belonged to the era of democracy protests. “The loss that comes with his death will be a loss that will affect all of us,” he said.
“He was a defender of democracy,” said TV Globo’s director general Octavio Florisbal.
With the giant of 20th century communications in Brazil gone, the control of his empire has passed to his three sons Joao Roberto, Jose Roberto and Roberto Irineu.
The speculation over the future over the company began in earnest soon after.
“Our commitment is not only to preserve, but to enlarge his work. This is our intention, this is our determination,” the brothers said in a joint statement at the funeral.
“There are no new directions at TV Globo. Roberto Marinho was away from the presidency for the last five years. Nothing has changed. The only difference is that his older son, Roberto Irineu Marinho, assumed the presidency of TV Globo,” a spokeswoman for the station told Aljazeera.net.
TV Globo is the world’s most prolific producer of television programmes – more than the BBC and CNN – with an output of more than 4500 hours a year.
It has 115 local broadcasters and coverage of 99.98% of the country and its programmes concentrate on the lowest common denominator with the highest production values.
Globo empire is trying to address
The novelas, or soap operas, are Globo’s defining cultural export, and an immovable central plank of night time viewing, forcing football matches to kick off late into the evening. The latest hit Mulheres Apaxionadas, or Women in Love, got Brazilians all steamed up with its titillating scenes. In addition, in a case of life imitating art, a story line over a march against gun ownership spilled over into a real protest attracting 50,000 on to the streets of Rio de Janeiro.
The formula has enabled the channel to maintain the lion’s share of advertising revenue and more than half of audience share in spite of the growth of rival networks such as SBT with their hit version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, “Show do Milhao”.
The Globo empire, however, has been in financial difficulty for some time. It has foreign-currency debts of $1.4 billion and repayment was due in October 2002. It has been renegotiating its debt ever since.
The empire has 20,000 employers and in addition to the station has four newspapers, a magazine and book publishing arm, cable and satellite TV, internet and radio operations.
It has sold off many non-media interests, including a construction company, to try to halt its losses.
“I am absolutely in favour of financial help for the group if this is shown to be necessary”
Foreign companies can now invest in Brazil media companies after a change in the law in December 2002. However, there is a cap on a maximum of 30% share, and without any immediate prospect of a controlling stake, nobody is yet battering down the door of Marinho’s legacy.
That is coupled with the fact that many major media conglomerates are also suffering – AOL Time Warner announced $100 billion in losses last year.
Yet, there could be a fallback with a government bailout, should it look like Globo is failing.
“I am absolutely in favour of financial help for the group is this is shown to be necessary,” says the communications minister Miro Teixeira.
“The big question today is what legacy the successors of Roberto Marinho will leave for Globo when they leave the scene,” one leading international media management consultant told the business magazine Exame.
A response to that had one reader raising another big question. “Why has this empire with the power to reach 160 million people left Brazil illiterate and culturally poor?” asked Valmor Rabelo.
Globo is not the only culprit; most free-to-air channels have similar prime-time programming.
“And,” continues Rebelo, “how is it that the owners of the company with negative profits and with billions in debt can continue to enjoy a life of pomp and ceremony?”