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State actors were the main perpetrators of violence against women journalists in Brazil in 2021, according to Abraji

Monitoring carried out by the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) recorded 119 cases of gender violence against journalists in 2021 in Brazil. Of these, in 58 cases state authorities were involved – Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, took part in eight of these attacks.

The data is part of the report “Gender violence against journalists,” published on March 8 and available in PortugueseSpanish, and English. It contains the consolidated results of monitoring carried out over the last year. Abraji collected cases using a form available on the project's website, Google alerts, and complaints from partner organizations.

The report highlights the special vulnerability of women journalists who write about politics, since 60% of the attacks were motivated by the coverage of this topic. Another finding is the fact that state actors participated in 52% of the attacks in which aggressors could be identified.

“It is possible to identify a clear association between misogynistic narratives and authoritarian trends: most of the aggressions triggered by specific journalistic coverage are linked to political agendas and attempts to prevent journalism from investigating and monitoring state power,” according to the report.

Researchers and journalists discuss report during webinar (Screenshot)

 

The people who commited most aggressions were the president, Jair Bolsonaro, and the governing federal deputy Carlos Jordy, involved in eight attacks each; Carlos Bolsonaro, son of the president and council member of the city of Rio de Janeiro, and Tercio Arnaud Tomaz, adviser to the Presidency, involved in seven attacks; and Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of the president and federal deputy, involved in five attacks.

In 69% of the 42 attacks in which there was more than one aggressor, a state actor initiated the aggression against journalists, in which he was accompanied by several non-state actors, who joined him in attacking the women journalists. According to the report, these episodes show “the articulation between such public authorities and groups of aggressors on the Internet,” and suggests “the existence of organized or semi-organized networks of aggressors, whose objective is to reverberate and amplify online aggression, creating a hostile environment for women journalists.”

Stigmatizing discourse

Women journalists were targeted in 91% of the episodes of gender violence against journalists recorded by Abraji. In 7% (eight cases) the victims were men and the aggressions were homophobic. The remaining 2% were attacks against media outlets that report topics related to gender and feminism, as was the case of Portal Catarinas, which in March 2021 went offline after a series of massive attacks.

Of a total of 119 attacks, 75% were stigmatizing discourse, which consist of verbal attacks or using images, videos, audios made public with the aim of defaming and discrediting the victim. Another 11% were threats, intimidation and cyberthreats; 5% physical aggression; 2.5% restrictions on the internet; 2.5% civil and criminal proceedings and 2.5% restrictions on access to information.

Most of the attacks recorded targeted the reputation and morals of women journalists, including narratives about alleged extramarital affairs and sexuality, as well as verbal attacks using misogynistic expressions with the intention of humiliating the professionals. Terms such as "slut," "whore," "ugly," "liar," "gossip," and "crazy" were used more than once in the aggressions, as well as provocations of ideological bias such as "communist," "journazi," and " leftist." The latter were the words that most appeared in the attacks, which would be “a product and indicative of an inflammatory political scenario,” according to the report.

The digital medium was the space in which 68% of the attacks originated, while 29% were not related to online environments and 3% did not originate on the internet, but had repercussions online.

The monitoring also showed that 24.4% of the victims worked for Grupo Globo, 11% for CNN Brasil, 10.2% for the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper and 5.5% for the UOL portal, while 3, 9% were freelance journalists. “This data is an essential signal for these journalistic companies to invest in a structure to deal with attacks,” the document states.

Support from journalistic organizations

Abraji held two webinars to launch the report, on March 8 and 9, with the participation of researchers on the topic and also journalists who have already been the target of gender attacks motivated by their work.

One of them is Mariliz Pereira Jorge, a journalist and columnist for Folha de S. Paulo, who highlighted her concern that online violence against professionals could turn into physical violence, especially in light of the upcoming presidential elections in October in Brazil.

“Violence has always existed, but I don’t think we even talked about ‘attacks.’ We used to say ‘ah, I was insulted, someone wrote something about me,’ but an attack, us journalists feeling attacked, is something that became more evident from 2018 onwards,” Jorge said.

Jorge said that that year she suffered an attack for the first time. “It was very difficult. I spent three days practically without accessing social networks, without talking to people. I was very scared and it had a very big mental impact on me. It only got worse since then. I'm no longer surprised by the virulence of the attacks, but it's something you don't get used to,” she said.

She said that in March 2021 she suffered “one of the worst attacks” she has ever experienced, and at the time she counted on “all the support” of Folha, the newspaper she works for. The company provided her with legal and safety advice, including suggesting that she spend time away from home and offering financial support to make it happen. According to her, the support of the journalistic organization in which the professional works is “fundamental.”

“I felt a lot less vulnerable at that moment because of the support. And I know that not all journalists can count on that,” Jorge said.

This is one of the main recommendations in the report, which states that “journalistic organizations must protect their professionals, creating safe channels for reporting and providing legal assistance. They must also invest in building an organizational culture in which violence is taken seriously.”

In addition, the document states that it is necessary for journalistic organizations to “to offer training in digital security, invest in team-building and adopt technological tools for monitoring and protection” of their professionals.

Another important measure, according to the report, is the action of digital platforms. They should invest more “in content moderation, notably in gender equality and human rights’ employee training. It becomes essential for platforms to continually review their policies, algorithms, and moderation processes to deal with the ever-evolving nature of online violence. In addition, they must define more effective policies and procedures to detect and penalize repeat offenders and prevent the same offenders from assuming new online identities after being suspended from platforms.”

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