Saturday, August 16, 2008

Brazil's Media: Ignoring Its Role In Supporting Police Violence and Racism Yet Again

Quite awhile back, I discussed how Brazilian media always justified police murders of innocent civilians in the favelas by referring to all the dead as "traficantes" or "bandidos." By using these criminal terms, the media simultaneously reflected and reified racist and classist attitudes that held the poor as responsible for their own situation while uncritically dehumanizing the innocent victims in the favelas.

In an absolute stunner, O Globo has apparently caught on to this, running a headline right now (11:05 PM EST on Saturday) claiming "No Rio, mortos em confrontos com a polícia são sempre ‘bandidos’" ("In Rio, the dead from police confrontations are always "bandits"). The report goes on to discuss how reports of violence and the dead from the favelas always treated the dead as criminals, even when they were not. This recognition that the police were and are violating basic human rights in the favelas and that innocent civilians are killed on a daily basis in the favelas would seem to be progress.

However, in true Globo fashion, nowhere in the article does the media conglomerate take any blame or accept any responsibility for the media's portrayal of the dead in the favelas. The article conveniently scapegoats the police, saying that the police always claimed that the dead were all "bandidos," and thus the media simply had been misinformed by the police.

I don't buy this for a second. Again, O Globo is the largest media conglomerate in Brazil, and one of the largest in the world. Any organization with any true journalistic standards, even an organization with standards as dubious and corrupt as O Globo's, could and should ask questions, be critical of police reports, do detailed in-depth investigations to see if the one side of the story they were given was true or not. O Globo did none of these things, yet it can't even accept the responsibility for this, despite numerous chances. Indeed, already in the second paragraph of the article, while discussing the 2002 murder of a sixteen-year-old student who was, of course, declared to be a "traficante," Globo glosses over its complete failure to investigate anything. The article mentions this case, and comments simply, "Nobody investigated [it]." ("Ninguem investigou.") This would have been a perfect chance for O Globo to try to at least admit that they have failed to ever be critical of any police reports that painted all the poor as traficantes while ignoring numerous human rights reports that chronicled in great detail the murder of civilians in the favelas. O Globo could have done this, could have taken advantage of this opportunity, right here, right now. But it doesn't. Instead, it simply says that "nobody investigated," and then moves on, continuing to blame the police instead of taking even one second to criticize itself for having spent decades simply swallowing what police reports said as the cops tried to cover their own tracks, and then regurgitating these same reports to the public en masse via television, newspapers, and magazines.

As for why, even now with this article, O Globo does not step up and admit its mistakes of the past, the answer is simple. Reporting of one side of the story of favela violence (the police's) without ever actually investigating the events in the favelas was neat and easy; it fit conveniently with the political ideology of O Globo's ownership and transmissions. O Globo has always been steeped in right-wing politics, even before it hopped in bed with the military dictatorship in order to expand its control. For decades, O Globo has subtly vomited racism and classism in virtually all of its forms of expression, be it print journalism, television news, or even the novelas. This just added one more reason why O Globo did not feel the need to further investigate police claims - the police's insistence that all the poor dead had it coming, regardless of innocence or guilt, fit perfectly with O Globo's general attitude to the poor (upon whom, in a sick irony, O Globo depends largely upon for its viewership of the national evening news and novelas).

I'd like to hope that people in Brazil will start to peel some of the wool from their eyes with this report, but I know better. Those who might have been persuaded by this article knew a long time ago that there are basic injustices and human rights violations in the favelas on a daily basis; those who were not remotely sympathetic to the dead favelados, even the innocent ones, will, like Globo, blame the police and move on, never stopping to question either the media conglomerate's (or other media outlets in Brazil) coverage and treatment of the poor and marginalized in Brazilian society, nor the basic structures of racism and classism in Brazil.