Majority of Brazilian media avoids discussing racism, study says

By Isabela Fraga

The majority of news outlets in Brazil stay away from the topic of racism, even though they regularly deal with the issue of racial inequality, according to a study conducted by the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies (Inesc) and Andi, a not-for-profit media watchdog. Titled "Parliament and Racism in the Media," the investigation was published in mid-March and analyzed 401 journalism articles that dealt with racism in relation to the Brazilian legislative branch.

"Representative democracy in Brazil is very distorted in Parliament. For us at Inesc, the explanation for that distortion is racism and, in this study, we wanted to understand how media outlets deal with the issue of racism using Parliament as a basis: parliamentary positions, legislation, voting," explained Eliana Magalhães Graça, a political  advisor with Inesc.

Fifty-six percent of the articles reviewed didn't mention the concept of racism, even when they dealt with topics that were related to the issue, like affirmative action and other legislation in the area. "The stories deviated from the historical, philosophical, sociological and anthropological debate on the phenomenon," the study said.

But is it possible to have this kind of profound debate in the pages of a newspaper, which is often limited by time and space? For Graça, the idea is not to have an in-depth discussion on the causes and solutions for a complex question that has existed since the beginning of Brazil's history. "You don't need to have an in-depth discussion, just acknowledge the concept [of racism]," she said. "The problem is how media outlets distort reality: their articles reveal data and discuss racial inequality, but they don't acknowledge the existence of racism per se."

Among the newspapers studied, a regional publication was the one that depicted the issue of racism the most often: A Tarde, from the state of Bahia, had 51 stories that dealt with the issue of racism and the Brazilian Parliament (12.7 percent of the stories analyzed). Estado de S. Paulo came in second place, with 46 stories (11.5 percent of the stories analyzed). However, the São Paulo publication, according to the study, "waters down the idea of a society marked by racism, neglecting parliamentary voices and other sectors that reaffirmed the existence of the phenomenon."

Black Brazilians represent more than 50 percent of the country's population, according to IBGE. However, only 43 of the 513 federal deputies identify themselves as black and, of the country's 81 senators, only two are Black, according to the Black Union for Equality (Unegro).

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.