Knight Center
Knight Center


Brazilian journalists report daily sexual harassment and gender discrimination in newsrooms

If you are a woman working in a newsroom, the above accounts may seem familiar. They were collected during focus groups for the report "Women in Brazilian Journalism," produced in partnership between the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji, for its acronym in Portuguese) and the journalism site Gênero e Número. The results indicate that 70.4 percent of the women who answered the online survey said someone had made a pass at them at work that made them feel uncomfortable. Another 70.2 percent reported having seen or heard of harassment of colleagues in the workplace.

The pioneering survey from Brazil heard from 42 women at discussion tables in Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Brasilia and São Paulo, as well as 477 journalists from 277 outlets who responded to an online form. The scenario found by the researchers shows a newsroom environment in which sexist practices are naturalized, according to coordinator of the report and co-founder of Gênero e Número, Natália Mazotte. For her, the embarrassment suffered by women severely impacts their work.

"We've seen cases where women explicitly said they did not go to meet a source in a social setting because they feel embarrassed. There is a whole universe of practices inside and outside the newsrooms that hinders the work of women journalists, who today are the majority. If we do not take care of it, we'll be interfering with the quality of journalism as a whole," she told the Knight Center.

Today, women account for more than 60 percent of journalism professionals in Brazil, according to a survey by the Federal University of Santa Catarina. Abraji's president, Thiago Herdy, said the motivation to produce the report came from the understanding that when a reporter who is seeking information is harassed by a source, it is a threat to freedom of expression and the press.

"It's just as serious as the case of a reporter who is hit by a stone from a protester or by a rubber bullet from the police at a demonstration. We understood that the first step in dealing with the problem would be to produce a precise diagnosis of this picture," he told the Knight Center.

The situations reported by the women heard in the report go beyond harassment: asymmetries were also reported in the distribution of tasks (57.7 percent of journalists said they were discriminated against), the determination of working hours (23.7 percent) and raises (35.4 percent) and promotions (39.4 percent).

"My boss, when I was still an intern, told me that I would not be effective because 'I only work with men'"; "I have already been stripped of a story precisely because I am a woman and they have given it to the man because it would be dangerous for me"; and "I'm the reporter who earns the least in my section of the newsroom. I have the lowest salary" were some of the remarks made in the research focus groups.

(Graphic by Lillian Michel/Knight Center)

Mazotte explained that even situations that could be less offensive, such as listening to sexist jokes (experienced by 92.3 percent of respondents), interfere with women's work, and, consequently, journalistic coverage. According to her, this scenario undermines the reporters’ confidence.

"Women do indeed feel disqualified in this noxious newsroom environment and this puts the woman in an inferior place. The man feels more at ease with the sources, he feels more heard, he is welcomed inside the newsroom and that gives him greater confidence," Mazotte summarized.

In the end, journalism is also undermined, especially in the coverage of gender and other identity issues, according to the report. The women interviewed in the survey complained about the banalization of topics such as domestic violence, rape, feminicide, discrimination and machismo. Some said that male editors interfered in matters, softening cases of violence against women.

For Mazotte, this trend points to the need for a diversity of worldviews in journalistic coverage. And not only on gender issues, but also on race — 94.5 percent of respondents said there were more white people than black people in their media outlets.

"In the newsroom, we have consolidated a culture in which the gender stereotype predominates and indicates what kind of work can be done by women and men. This ends up consolidating a kind of outlook that is not very diverse,” she said.

"If a woman is not heard in the last instance, you run the risk of generating prejudiced speech that will not qualify the debate around that subject. This is one of the functions of the press — to qualify public debate, to inform people. If we end up confirming biases, we are not reporting, we are only reaffirming what is already status quo."

Screenshot from Mulheres no Jornalismo Brasileiro

Change in sight

The research pointed to positive scenarios regarding female representation in editor’s positions. According to the survey, 44 percent of respondents had male editors, 27.5 percent had women editors and 12 percent were editors themselves. In the area of economics, there are many more women editors, which indicates that females are dominating previously male spaces.

"For me, the outlook is good. Women are more aware of the difficulties and discrimination they suffer. We are moving to a place of better conditions for women. Just looking at it now, mapping the problems, being willing to talk about it, is already a breakthrough," Mazotte said.

The president of Abraji, Herdy, said that in the first half of 2018, the association will carry out an awareness campaign around the theme. "We want to show that harrassment of a reporter by a source concerns all of us and to fight against it is to fight for the right to quality information," he said. "We will share the results of the survey with management at news outlets. We are certain that, in the present context, they are data that also interest them."

*Editor’s note: Natália Mazotte is also a collaborator of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.



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