“The public broadcasting television service was designed to promote diversity”

Nuno Artur Silva, administrator at RTP-Rádio e Televisão de Portugal for content and programming, argues that the broadcasting television service “was designed to promote diversity”. This statement was made during the opening lecture of two of the PhDs to which the CECS is associated – Communication Sciences and Cultural Studies -, on October 13, in the University of Minho ICS auditorium, which was subordinated to the theme “Media, public service and culture: the role of RTP”. He also highlighted the idea that the reflection he developed in 2015, when he was invited to take up his duties at RTP, after more than 20 years in charge of a private company producing audiovisual content, was what distinguishes the television stations channels in Portugal. And the conclusion was simple: “Private TVs are for everyone. The Public Service is for other people”.

Nuno Artur Silva says he received the invitation to join RTP’s management at a time when the company was in a privatization process, a process that stopped after Minister Miguel Relvas, who was in charge of the media sector, was replaced by the Minister Poiares Maduro. Accepting the challenge, the new administration had as its objective to develop an action leading to follow the model previously defined, in which independent General Council, has elected the Board of Directors, to develop a Media Public Service (SPM).

To illustrate this picture, the RTP administrator recalled that “there were already channels who bet on Tony Carreira [a popular singer] in his programming” and, therefore, “the Public Media Service had to guarantee other things”. And, in addition to these genres and soap operas, which punctuate the other television sets, “there are many more paths to follow in the Public Service, such as movies, TV movies and documentaries”. And even with regard to information SPM service, “news programs should tend to open with different issues from private television”, stressing that “there is no public service journalism and private journalism, but there is a news alignment to public service and a different one to the private alignment”.

But all these changes have antibodies, as he noted. However, Nuno Artur Silva was, from the outset, contrary to emphasize the commitment to the production of quality soap operas: “With all respect for Tony Carreira, he is not the best musician even if he is the most popular…”. And he said more: if the market offers this range of products, the Public Service should be a complement, doing diferente things: “The world is diverse. We assume the role of curators for televison viewers, even if it seems difficult to achieve”. In fact, when the new SPM team assumed functions, the thought was to deliver a call in the universe of producers and directors, for making new films and documetaries, in order to promote the diversity. However, the problem was that there were no professionals available to produce them. He explained why it happened: “Until then, this need was not felt, because no one ordered these products, either in the public service or in the Portuguese audiovisual spectrum”.

An example of this change, which has been successfully recognized, was the Eurovision Song Contest, won this year by Portugal. This is the most watched musical spectacle in the world. He recalls that, since Portugal began to participate in the show, many Portuguese songs have passed in the event, but he questioned the fact why they never had great success. And he explained what was done, since he is in the RTP, to change the situation: “We changed the logic, taking a year break, situation which that was much criticized. But it was worth it because, in the following year [2017] we won. We called the best composers in the market, with work done in the pop area, and we gave freedom so that their productions were sung by whomever they wanted. It is in this context that appeared Salvador Sobral, a jazz singer”. But the change did not stop there: “We went further than the festival itself. We involve people in networks. We tell the stories of the participants, betting on the storytelling“. For Nuno Artur Silva, this is the primordial activity: “The use of memory, the connection to who we were, and who we are today. Storytelling is the most engaging means of interacting with people”. Regarding the Eurovision Song Contest, the choice of the Portugal representative singer was made by the public and a specialized jury, in equal parts, reason why “there was a balance between experts and the popular vote, that also constitutes a form of public service”.


The importance of storytelling

The storytelling, moreover, marks the life of Nuno Artur Silva who, from an early age, liked movies, humor sketches, literature and comics, “taking pleasure in writing for others”. At the beginning of the 90’s of the twentieth century the market was opened to private television and it was at that time, with other university colleagues, that he created a scriptwriting agency, when the market hasn´t a career for screenwriters, but only for directors.

The dictatorship lasted until April of 1974 and its leaders were not big fans of the documentary, except when they were in the service of the regime’s ideology. In the public channel there was no regular production of documentaries: “From 1957 until 1974 – it can be seen through the RTP’s Memory Channel – there are no series nor documentaries. In Portugal, only from the 40’s, we have the films of Vasco Santana and António Silva”. Later, after the revolution, the French film subsidy model was adopted, “without major concerns to reach the public, unlike the fiction of the soap operas, which had large audiences”. Moreover, the most striking phenomenon in the sector was the production of soap operas to have entered the television. It happened in 1977 with “Gabriela”, by the hand of Carlos Cruz, then RTP program director. From then on, there was a soap opera every day on television.

In 1992, SIC Televison appears (it is now celebrating 25 years), and the first novelty was the signining of an agreement with the Brazilian TV Globo, so that the station would have the exclusive to Portugal of its soap operas, in a measure that was revealed in a big success. Then came TVI Television, which followed the same path in terms of programming. Nuno Artur Silva says that at the time he was invited to RTP, “SIC, TVI and RTP, all of them, were showing soap operas after the big news evening, in an horizontal programming, with a Latin American logic”. The picture was as follows: on one side there was the author’s cinema, “with an apparent hatred of the viewer”, and on the other side, the soap operas. The audiovisual sector was underdeveloped, in a time that mythology is measured by audiovisual diversity: “When my team arrived at RTP, we asked where we wanted to go, bearing in mind that in the case of TVI there were 6, 5 million people watching soap operas”. In this sense, one of the first priorities was to make a directed call to independent producers, to find ideas for series and documentaries. This is now replicated every year, even though the big problem is the lack of money to realize this policy: “RTP is the Europe’s third least-funded public station. The implementation of all these policies are done with little money. We are not in competition with the private channels. We do not intend to compete with SIC or TVI. So, with an annual budget of 200 million euros, we have to compensate for having some commercial products, like ‘The voice …’. Moreover, public television is not just for intellectuals ….”. To counterbalance, the football broadcasts is the only differentiated content, “there is nothing, but nothing, that comes close”. Now, football captures an audience that no other product can get and that allows series with fewer audiences to be produced (which stands for a fifth of the soap operas audience).

With regard to his career, he recalls that he has spent more than 20 years selling content from the private company he founded with his colleagues, named “Produções Fictícias” (PF). And, telling the story of the company, he said that it began with works for the programs of Herman José, who was, at the time, the great national television and radio star. Just because of him, the PF team was increased: “It was just me and Rui Cardoso Martins… The regular work allowed us to survive. At the time, there were no humor writers. But that was because they were not necessary. Herman called us … And we have created the company in this logic, being aware that only the industrial rhythm allows the creation of genres and subgenres”. The work in the PF began to be adapted to the market law, and the project evolved, producing his own different projects (“O Homem que Mordeu o Cão”, with Nuno Markl, the “Gato Fedorento”, with Ricardo Araújo Pereira, “O Eixo do Mal”, with himself): “We become authors, producers and agents at the same time”. It is in this framework that, later, appears the “Canal Q” (a television channel), from where Nuno Artur Silva left for RTP.



Text & photos: Vítor de Sousa