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Broadcasting in Portuguese - 2003-02-25


Paulo Oliveira was a familiar voice to VOA listeners at one time in Portugal, then Brazil. Now he is heard in Mozambique, Cape Verde, San Tome and Principe, Guinea-Bissau and Angola.

Almost each weekday evening Paulo Oliveira hosts the one-hour Portuguese to Africa Evening Show, which brings the latest news from around the world to many millions of listeners in Portuguese-speaking Africa.

Opening of Portuguese-to-Africa airshow

Mr. Oliveira was initially hired by VOA in 1984 to work on programs directed to Portugal. When the Portuguese Service was closed in 1991, Mr. Oliveira became part of a team feeding material to radio stations in Brazil, and then in 1995 transferred to the Portuguese to Africa service. So his experience at VOA covers broadcasting to three very different areas of the world.

“The common thread is the Portuguese language. The [media] markets in Europe and Brazil are much more sophisticated, much more updated. They didn’t go through most of the troubles that the African countries did after independence. In Africa it’s a different story. The needs are extremely different. Media-wise, we have been proud to work on a project on the ground – in Angola, mainly – where the political information was crucial to make a turn-around.”

In 1996 the Voice of America’s Portuguese to Africa service opened a news bureau in the capital of Luanda to provide Angolans with up-to-the-minute news and reports on events in their country that were not available in the state-controlled media. The service clearly fulfilled a need – some 60% of Angolans regularly listen to the program.

“The job is done by Angolans to Angola. It’s a different perspective. To have someone on the field talking about what they go through and what they face, it’s much more real than having someone far away, miles away talking to you.”

The Luanda news center consists of a full-time staff of 13, plus an additional 18 journalists working throughout the country, and a rotational correspondent from VOA’s Portuguese to Africa service in Washington. Paulo Oliveira was the first Washington journalist to be assigned to Luanda.

“When I go to a place for any kind of journalistic activity I turn on my tape recorder, my microphone. Later on I have lots of [recorded] minutes that are not useful, but I remember my reaction. I remember the first time in Angola I went into a minefield. I put the microphone on my jacket and I talked to myself. I was walking, looking at the mines 30 centimeters near by me, and the guy behind me telling me ‘don’t put your foot over there, put your feet over there, put your feet over there’. It’s whoa! I was using headsets, and suddenly my heart ‘boom, boom, boom.’ Whoops, (laughs) that’s a strange feeling. And I used my reactions on the field.”

Paulo Oliveira did not start out to be a reporter. He grew up in the Azores on the island of Sao Miguel, and at eighteen went to the mainland to study German and English linguistics and literature at the University of Lisbon. His first jobs were in marketing and finance. He says he got into journalism by accident.

“In 1974 there was a revolution in Portugal, and I was working as the director of the commercial side of a radio station. And due to the revolution the station was without journalists, suddenly -–most of them thought it would be better for their health to quit. And I had a conversation with one of the station’s directors, and the guy said, ‘would you like to be the news director?’ and I bluntly told him, ‘I have no background in this.’ ‘Oh, but you’ll learn – fast.’ ‘Okay, if you have confidence in me, that’s it.’

Mr. Oliveira did learn fast. He learned by covering state visits of dignitaries to Portugal, which none of the more experienced journalists wanted to cover. Later he reported on international organizations, NATO, on events in Europe, and developed into the seasoned journalist that attracted the attention of the then-chief of VOA’s Portuguese service, who recruited him to come to the United States. After almost 20 years, Mr. Oliveira is still enthusiastic about his job.

‘It’s a consolidation of what I like to do, and even now I adore to do it. I like to be in the action, I like to present shows, I like to be the emcee, I like very much to write, I like to be a reporter.”

As for his adjustment to America, Paulo Oliveira says that despite his accent, he is as American as anybody who was born here. Although the fast tempo of life took some getting used to, he says, now he feels very much at home.

“I like the persons who live here, Americans and non-Americans, I like the environment, I adore Washington, D.C. Because it’s a clean town, a town where you can meet persons from anywhere in the world, with different opinions, with different reactions, with different positions. And I keep learning from my interaction with other persons. For me, it’s a perfect place.”

English Feature #7-37208 Broadcast February 24, 2003