Brazilian journalism turns wounds into action

Brazilian journalism will need to turn “awareness into new practices to reaffirm it as an institution capable of meeting the challenges imposed on Brazilian society.”

In 2023, Brazilian journalists will breathe a sigh of relief.

Jair Bolsonaro’s defeat in the elections projects a scenario of at least some democratic normalcy, in which the number of attacks on journalism is expected to diminish. The end of a cycle in which violence was a state policy allows us to glimpse a period of recovery from the aggression suffered over the last four years. On the other hand, it also suggests the need for continuous vigilance and willingness to turn this painful legacy into advancement.

The year 2023 will be one of reconstruction. The new Lula administration has the task of rebuilding a democratic society whose institutions have been corroded from within throughout the Bolsonaro administration. We will have to work on many fronts. Two of them are priorities already in the transition process — the climate crisis and hunger. Brazil ends 2022 with record-breaking deforestation and 33 million people living with food insecurity.

At the same time, it will be up to the political forces brought to power to heal a divided society. The coup acts still underway in various parts of the country and the questioning of the election results, albeit based on no evidence whatsoever, illustrate even more than just two sides of a nation with their backs to each other — they also represent how part of the population is detached from reality.

This phenomenon exists largely due to disinformation. The adoption of lies and denialism as a strategy has found fertile ground in Bolsonaro’s Brazil. The use of the public machine and algorithmic transparency for this kind of discursive tactic has culminated in hordes singing the national anthem to tires and calling for alien help in front of military facilities. These scenes would be merely cartoonish were they not dangerous. And violent.

In 2022, even under constant attack, journalism moved forward. In 2023, in its healing process, its professionals will have no rest. Because in the coming year journalism will need to transform its wounds into awareness, and its awareness into new practices to reaffirm it as an institution capable of meeting the challenges imposed on Brazilian society. That is how it will fulfill its role as one of the pillars of democracy.

The truculence of Bolsonarism helped make evident what values journalism must serve. In the last four years, Brazilian journalism has become more united and stronger as an institution. It has understood the value of collaboration and become more diverse. Now, it is up to journalists to consolidate the lessons of the Bolsonaro era and remain vigilant. Although Jair Bolsonaro is no longer in power, Bolsonarism is not dead.

That is what the nine authors invited by Farol Jornalismo and Abraji for this edition of O Jornalismo no Brasil predict. It is a special issue that has brought together journalists and researchers for the last seven years to reflect on what to expect from journalism in the coming year.

Natalia Viana, executive director of Agência Pública, when asked what remains of Bolsonarism, stresses the importance that all journalists, especially those who cover politics, understand the mechanics of disinformation. “There lies the future of political coverage,” she writes. Viana also draws attention to violence against the press: it will not disappear, because it is an “agglutinating element of the Bolsonarist identity.”

Denise Mota, the editor at AFP and columnist at Folha de S. Paulo, argues that the violence suffered by journalists throughout the Bolsonaro administration should serve the purpose of building awareness of the violence that political minorities have always suffered in the country. That awareness can be transformed into action through diversity. Only so will journalism be able to “contribute to making Brazil a truly just society.”

Diversity also has a promising horizon in the Brazilian audio journalism market. After all, a continental country like ours has a plethora of incredible stories to be told. But only as long as producers seek varied forms of financing to avoid adhering to narrative formulas imported from abroad, observes Tiago Rogero, creative manager at Rádio Novelo.

Denise Mota’s provocation also relates to the warnings issued by researcher Rafiza Varão regarding journalistic ethics. For the UnB professor, it will be up to journalism in 2023 to understand that a professional code of ethics is not set in stone. It is not “a standard that must be followed thoughtlessly even if the evidence says otherwise”. Ethics, she says, requires deliberate, not automatic, positioning.

In this sense, the coverage of the climate crisis poses itself as one of the great challenges of the coming year. Although advances have been made, journalism’s attitude towards environmental issues will demand even more from its professionals, points out the editor-in-chief of Agência EcoNordeste, Maristela Crispim. For her, journalism will have to watch powers, fight against disinformation, and educate the population about one of today’s most urgent issues.

It is not possible to talk about the climate crisis without addressing local journalism — and the difficulties of practicing it in Brazil. Isabelle Maciel, cofounder, and editor-in-chief of Tapajós de Fato stresses the need for journalists who cover what happens in their territories to be able to work safely. Local journalism is the defense “weapon” for populations located beyond the reach of the mainstream press.

Disinformation is a challenge that crosses all dimensions of journalistic practices. Over the past few years, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic, data journalism has proven to be one of the most effective antidotes for this evil. As pointed out by Lucas Thaynan and Graziela França from Agência Tatu, the advancement of the area in hyperlocal journalism initiatives will be fundamental to the fight against negationism.

Another line of work that journalism can and should embrace to contain disinformation is SEO, according to JOTA’s digital marketing and audience manager Isabela Sperandio. If valued by Brazilian newsrooms, the optimization of search results may not only bring journalism closer to its audience but also begin to balance the internet dispute between quality content and so-called “fake news”.

During the Bolsonaro administration, however, disinformation partially originated in government-aligned vehicles. What will be the fate of the Bolsonarist media in 2023? UFSC Journalism professor Jacques Mick predicts four possible paths: these mediums might remain Bolsonarists, dedicating themselves to radical opposition; they might criticize the new government; they might change their editorial line and support the new administration; alternatively, they might embrace the traditional professional values of journalism.

Despite the accumulated fatigue, next year will not be a year of rest for Brazilian journalism. Violence — although hopefully not perpetrated by the state — will remain a reality, disinformation will still be omnipresent, and democracy will have to be rebuilt. 2023 will be a year of reconstruction. For Brazilian democracy and for journalism.

Moreno Osório is a journalist, cofounder founder of Farol Jornalismo, and the newsletter editor at Headline.

In 2023, Brazilian journalists will breathe a sigh of relief.

Jair Bolsonaro’s defeat in the elections projects a scenario of at least some democratic normalcy, in which the number of attacks on journalism is expected to diminish. The end of a cycle in which violence was a state policy allows us to glimpse a period of recovery from the aggression suffered over the last four years. On the other hand, it also suggests the need for continuous vigilance and willingness to turn this painful legacy into advancement.

The year 2023 will be one of reconstruction. The new Lula administration has the task of rebuilding a democratic society whose institutions have been corroded from within throughout the Bolsonaro administration. We will have to work on many fronts. Two of them are priorities already in the transition process — the climate crisis and hunger. Brazil ends 2022 with record-breaking deforestation and 33 million people living with food insecurity.

At the same time, it will be up to the political forces brought to power to heal a divided society. The coup acts still underway in various parts of the country and the questioning of the election results, albeit based on no evidence whatsoever, illustrate even more than just two sides of a nation with their backs to each other — they also represent how part of the population is detached from reality.

This phenomenon exists largely due to disinformation. The adoption of lies and denialism as a strategy has found fertile ground in Bolsonaro’s Brazil. The use of the public machine and algorithmic transparency for this kind of discursive tactic has culminated in hordes singing the national anthem to tires and calling for alien help in front of military facilities. These scenes would be merely cartoonish were they not dangerous. And violent.

In 2022, even under constant attack, journalism moved forward. In 2023, in its healing process, its professionals will have no rest. Because in the coming year journalism will need to transform its wounds into awareness, and its awareness into new practices to reaffirm it as an institution capable of meeting the challenges imposed on Brazilian society. That is how it will fulfill its role as one of the pillars of democracy.

The truculence of Bolsonarism helped make evident what values journalism must serve. In the last four years, Brazilian journalism has become more united and stronger as an institution. It has understood the value of collaboration and become more diverse. Now, it is up to journalists to consolidate the lessons of the Bolsonaro era and remain vigilant. Although Jair Bolsonaro is no longer in power, Bolsonarism is not dead.

That is what the nine authors invited by Farol Jornalismo and Abraji for this edition of O Jornalismo no Brasil predict. It is a special issue that has brought together journalists and researchers for the last seven years to reflect on what to expect from journalism in the coming year.

Natalia Viana, executive director of Agência Pública, when asked what remains of Bolsonarism, stresses the importance that all journalists, especially those who cover politics, understand the mechanics of disinformation. “There lies the future of political coverage,” she writes. Viana also draws attention to violence against the press: it will not disappear, because it is an “agglutinating element of the Bolsonarist identity.”

Denise Mota, the editor at AFP and columnist at Folha de S. Paulo, argues that the violence suffered by journalists throughout the Bolsonaro administration should serve the purpose of building awareness of the violence that political minorities have always suffered in the country. That awareness can be transformed into action through diversity. Only so will journalism be able to “contribute to making Brazil a truly just society.”

Diversity also has a promising horizon in the Brazilian audio journalism market. After all, a continental country like ours has a plethora of incredible stories to be told. But only as long as producers seek varied forms of financing to avoid adhering to narrative formulas imported from abroad, observes Tiago Rogero, creative manager at Rádio Novelo.

Denise Mota’s provocation also relates to the warnings issued by researcher Rafiza Varão regarding journalistic ethics. For the UnB professor, it will be up to journalism in 2023 to understand that a professional code of ethics is not set in stone. It is not “a standard that must be followed thoughtlessly even if the evidence says otherwise”. Ethics, she says, requires deliberate, not automatic, positioning.

In this sense, the coverage of the climate crisis poses itself as one of the great challenges of the coming year. Although advances have been made, journalism’s attitude towards environmental issues will demand even more from its professionals, points out the editor-in-chief of Agência EcoNordeste, Maristela Crispim. For her, journalism will have to watch powers, fight against disinformation, and educate the population about one of today’s most urgent issues.

It is not possible to talk about the climate crisis without addressing local journalism — and the difficulties of practicing it in Brazil. Isabelle Maciel, cofounder, and editor-in-chief of Tapajós de Fato stresses the need for journalists who cover what happens in their territories to be able to work safely. Local journalism is the defense “weapon” for populations located beyond the reach of the mainstream press.

Disinformation is a challenge that crosses all dimensions of journalistic practices. Over the past few years, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic, data journalism has proven to be one of the most effective antidotes for this evil. As pointed out by Lucas Thaynan and Graziela França from Agência Tatu, the advancement of the area in hyperlocal journalism initiatives will be fundamental to the fight against negationism.

Another line of work that journalism can and should embrace to contain disinformation is SEO, according to JOTA’s digital marketing and audience manager Isabela Sperandio. If valued by Brazilian newsrooms, the optimization of search results may not only bring journalism closer to its audience but also begin to balance the internet dispute between quality content and so-called “fake news”.

During the Bolsonaro administration, however, disinformation partially originated in government-aligned vehicles. What will be the fate of the Bolsonarist media in 2023? UFSC Journalism professor Jacques Mick predicts four possible paths: these mediums might remain Bolsonarists, dedicating themselves to radical opposition; they might criticize the new government; they might change their editorial line and support the new administration; alternatively, they might embrace the traditional professional values of journalism.

Despite the accumulated fatigue, next year will not be a year of rest for Brazilian journalism. Violence — although hopefully not perpetrated by the state — will remain a reality, disinformation will still be omnipresent, and democracy will have to be rebuilt. 2023 will be a year of reconstruction. For Brazilian democracy and for journalism.

Moreno Osório is a journalist, cofounder founder of Farol Jornalismo, and the newsletter editor at Headline.

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