In the last two years, we have been seeing frequent reports on the Brazilian news about women journalists being harassed morally or sexually by sources and within their own work environments.
This does not mean the phenomenon is new in Brazilian society – a society in which the bodies of women are often the target of reductionist and insistent hypersexualization. But now it is finally being talked about.
One reason is that just over two years ago, with other women journalists based mainly in the city of Sao Paulo, we began, in a very organic way, the work of what would become the first collective to report harassment in our own profession, called “Journalists against harassment”.
At that time, we gave support to a journalist from IG Portal who had been fired after reporting sexual harassment by a singer during an interview. Her case served as an alert: What if it happened to us? We could also be exposed to the same vulnerability if we did not keep quiet in the face of harassment. We decided to take action.
At first, we collected, from groups of women journalists on WhatsApp and Facebook, phrases heard inside and outside the newsrooms, which had affected them or their colleagues. We received more than 100 videos in selfie format in less than two days with comments, summarizing harassment suffered during women’s entire professional lives.
We used the reports to make a video of just over a minute telling the world that yes, we journalists also suffer harassment. And no, we are no longer willing to turn the page as if nothing had happened.
From that point, we have gone on to analyze a series of other similar cases that had ended up being glossed over, in a profession that systematically reported harassment practiced in other areas, but not within its own.
We produce video campaigns focusing on women journalists suffering various types of harassment: from sources in sports or politics, for example, and even from the companies where they work. Complaints about women journalists’ difficulties in getting promotions or simply wage increases compared with men in the same job are not uncommon. Not being assigned to cover the country’s most crucial issues, such as politics and economics, is another negative aspect a woman reporter has to deal with, even when, in many cases, she is more qualified than the male colleague to whom the story is assigned.
Last but not least, there are numerous cases of harassment against journalists who want to exercise their maternity rights and are not always respected in their choices. The cases of women who have had their skills called into question after becoming mothers are unacceptable and outrageous.
We have spent almost three years in deconstruction, awareness-raising and simply shedding light on the subject. The work has shown how much a female journalist is more vulnerable to these attacks because the nature of the aggression against her is much more sexual and psychological, and less related to her professional capacity.
One of four video campaigns, called “Juntos contra o Machismo” (“together against sexism”), showed us that we would not reach the stalkers if we did not also involve men in the task – the majority of harassers are men. We received the collaboration of dozens of nationally prominent male journalists who read aloud real comments heard by women inside and outside the workplace, thus helping other men and themselves to reflect on their behaviour.
An important development of our collective’s work was the #DeixaElaTrabalhar (Let her do her job) campaign, launched in March 2018 in the form of a video manifesto to combat the sexual and other harassment suffered by female sports journalists in stadiums, on the streets and in newsrooms.
The initiative included about 50 journalists working in sports – presenters, reporters, producers and press officers from various media – and it met with success. Besides amplifying the voices against the harassment, it got some of the biggest Brazilian soccer clubs involved in spreading the campaign hashtag. And also since most journalists were from TV or radio, the message was passed on to a large audience.
The demand is also growing from communications students to tackle this issue in their academic work. Through lectures and chats with college students, we encourage them to do so within their own journalism classes at their universities.
But 2018 also revealed to us that the harassment scenario that we – the collective and other organizations attentive to freedom of the press – must work on is much broader than what we were highlighting.
It was a year characterized by intense political polarization between left and right in Brazil. The press was caught up in a credibility crisis promoted by both ideological extremes. In a torrent of hate speech that tries to discredit the press, attacks against journalists inside and outside the virtual environment have intensified.
According to the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI), there have been at least 150 election-related physical and online attacks against journalists in 2018 by activists of all political tendencies.
Brazil’s election campaign was marked by an avalanche of false news. Reporters – men and women who sought to reveal inconsistencies in political speeches – have been the target of hundreds of threats, defamation campaigns and fake social networking profiles. Even in these cases, Brazilian women journalists are more affected by gender-based violence: not only their credibility, but also their physical, moral and sexual integrity is under threat.
The Folha de S.Paulo’s reporter Patricia Campos Mello, for example, uncovered a scheme to disseminate fake news. As a consequence, her Whatsapp account was hacked and her contacts erased. The journalist also suffered a series of threats and other internet attacks.
Campos Mello was only one of several women journalists targeted during the campaign. One of Brazil’s most respected journalists, Miriam Leitão (GloboNews, O Globo, TV Globo), was subjected to a massive smear campaign, with false reports that she had once been arrested for a hold-up in the 1960s. In fact, she was detained and tortured in 1972 during the military dictatorship.
A reporter for the NE10 news website was attacked and threatened with rape by far-right supporters on the day of the first-round voting. “When the commander is president, all the press will be killed,” she heard from the aggressors after showing them her press card.
A reporter for the Intercept Brazil news website, Amanda Audi, received virtual assaults and death threats after reporting that a female congresswoman from a right-wing party, also a journalist, had been found guilty in 2015 of plagiarism.
Our collective recently highlighted the current situation of harassment and virtual lynching of Brazilian journalists at the NGO ARTICLE 19’s international congress in Mexico City. We were also able to discuss the work our collective has carried out in the last three years at the main conference of Brazilian journalists organized by ABRAJI, focusing on the risks to women journalists.
In the present situation, the work of activists for freedom of expression, including those involved in the “Journalists against harassment” collective, remains as relevant as ever. Our collective seeks to show that people may disagree with the message, but do not have the right to attack the messenger.
It is necessary that external organizations monitoring the principles of democracy also keep a close eye on Brazil to ensure that this freedom of expression is upheld.
At the same time, platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp should be more vigilant and faster to punish cyber criminals who act with the clear intention of intimidating or engendering self-censorship in journalists by means of persecution.