Reporting prize seeks to “challenge the logic of the drug war” in Brazilian journalism

The Gilberto Velho Media and Drugs reporting prize, which has acknowledged five Brazilian journalists in its third edition, aims to encourage and improve the quality of the public debate on drug policies and legislation in the South American country. The 2016 winners of the prize were announced on Dec. 2.

According to one of the coordinators of the project, social scientist Julita Lemgruber, the award is part of a campaign called “Trafficking is born from prohibition,” in addition to a series of activities that “intend to challenge the logic of the war on drugs.” The campaign includes cartoons, videos and communication on social networks that tries to stimulate debate on the issue.

“Brazil has the highest number of homicides per year in the world. Most of these deaths are the result of the war on drugs, which legitimizes police violence. In Brazil, police kill nine people each day,” said Lemgruber, who is also the coordinator of the Center for Studies on Security and Citizenship (CESeC for its acronym in Portuguese) of the Universidade Candido Mendes.

According to Lemgruber, drug war policy also impacts the prison system. “More than 600,000 people are imprisoned in the country, making it the fourth largest incarcerated population in the world,” she told the Knight Center.

According to journalist Anabela Paiva, also a coordinator of the award, the public debate on the subject is very focused on the fear of the damages that drugs can cause. The press, for Paiva, does not usually produce material that goes beyond the dynamics of drug trafficking. She believes that there are more isolated reports from journalists who are more knowledgeable about drug policies and legislation.

“The role of the press is fundamental in spreading scientific knowledge on the subject and presenting what happens not only in Brazil but in other countries. We have seen some journalist who have taken the subject for themselves, believing in its importance,” she said.

Therefore, the prize has emerged as a way to give more visibility to journalistic works on drugs and, over time, to encourage the production of these reports. In 2016, 60 journalists applied for the award, including those from cities in the country’s interior.

“We hope that from this initiative of valuing the work of the media, other outlets and journalists put the issue as a more frequent and valued topic,” Paiva said.

In addition to the award, the coordinators organized a workshop in 2015, “Drugs on the Agenda,” which offered journalists and journalism students lectures with experts on legal, historical, medical and ethical aspects of drug policy.


In the third edition of the Gilberto Velho Media and Drugs prize, journalist Débora Melo of magazine Carta Capital won the main prize for R $7,000 (about US $2,052). She was recognized for three reports titled: “Brazil enters the map of psychedelic medicine,” “Osmar Terra and the retrocession in drug police” and “The cracolândia (a part of the city popular for the use of crack cocaine) at the center of the political dispute in São Paulo.” The last report was done in collaboration with journalist Tadeu Amaral.

Journalist Alessandra Mendes took second place and received R $3,000 for the article “100% irregular: surveys in 42 rehabilitation centers point to violations of rules and rights,” published by Jornal Hoje em Dia in Belo Horizonte.

For the report “Us: Who are the Bolivians imprisoned in São Paulo,” published by the Brazilian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, journalist Ana Luiza Voltolini Uwai won third place and a prize of R $2,000.

In addition to the three awards, the jury granted two honorable mentions, both of R$1,000 to journalists Fernanda Teixeira Ribeiro and Juliano Amengual Tatsh.


Gilberto Velho Media and Drugs is considered the first journalistic prize dedicated to the subject of drugs in Brazil. The project has the support of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) and honors the anthropologist Gilberto Velho (1945-2012), who, according to the organizers of the award, was “one of the first to propose a discussion on drug regulation in Brazil.”

The project is an initiative of the Center for Studies on Security and Citizenship (CESeC) of Universidade Candido Mendes, aimed at “producing analysis and data related to crime and public safety.” In addition to the award, CESeC is developing a number of activities around the issue of drugs through a larger project funded by Open Society Foundations.

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.