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Brazil: TV Humiliation of Young Man Opens Media Regulation Debate

At the beginning of May, a televised feature from the programme ‘Brasil Urgente’ was aired in which a young man, poor, black, and whose face showed the marks of a violent attack, was “interviewed” by the reporter Mirella Cunha [pt], who accused him of trying to rape a woman.

In the video, the journalist from the Bandeirantes Network in Bahia jokes about the lack of schooling of the young man who, in tears, admits in despair that he tried to rob a woman, but that he would never have tried to rape her – or any other woman.

The journalist Renato Rovai gives the details [pt]:

Uma repórter loirinha, com rabinho de cavalo à la Feiticeria, coloca um jovem negro, com hematoma aparente de uma agressão recente, numa situação absolutamente constrangedora. Julga-o antes da Justiça, humilha-o por conta de sua ignorância em relação aos seus direitos e ao procedimento a se realizar num exame de corpo delito e acha isso tudo muito engraçado.

A blonde reporter, with a pony-tail reminiscent of Feiticeira [translator's note: Feiticeira is a blonde Brazilian model], puts a young black man, with a visible hematoma from a recent aggression, in an extremely uncomfortable position. She judges him before the Court has done so, she humiliates him for his ignorance of his rights and of the procedures carried out in a forensic medical exam, and she finds all of this hilarious.

“Spectacularisation of the news” versus presumption of innocence

In Brazil, even a person caught in flagrante for robbery or any other crime has the right by law to defend him or herself before being accused. Paulo Sérgio, accused publicly on TV for a crime which he says he did not commit, is a poor young man who lives on the outskirts of the city. He is black and is a preferential victim in a country marked by racism and prejudice.

Cases like this ignite or reignite the debate over the necessity of regulating the great Brazilian media and of imposing limits on the custom of stereotyping minorities and vulnerable people.

The journalist Marco Antõnio Araújo observes [pt]:

Antes de mais nada: não estamos aqui para defender bandido. O desgraçado da “reportagem” assume seus crimes e nem protesta quando, de passagem, narra ter sofrido prováveis agressões físicas. Só insiste com veemência que umas das acusações não procede, a de estupro. Tudo isso, a veracidade ou não do discurso do marginal, é irrelevante diante da postura da pretensa entrevistadora.

First of all: we are not here to defend delinquents. The unfortunate man in the “report” assumes his crimes and doesn't even protest when, in passing, he tells of the likely physical aggression which he suffered. He only insists vehemently that one of the accusations is untrue, that of the rape. All of this, the truth or not of the outcast's story, is irrelevant in the face of the supposed interviewer's attitude.

Evandro Cruz, editor of Café e Analgésicos (Coffee and Painkillers), dismisses [pt] the journalism practised by the programme:

Still from the YouTube video of the programme Brasil Urgente in which Paulo Sérgio appears with a wounded face

Still from the YouTube video of the programme Brasil Urgente in which Paulo Sérgio appears with a wounded face

A imprensa é um dos órgãos mais poderosos que uma sociedade dispõe, um programa de televisão de grande audiência – como o Brasil Urgente o é – consegue formar a opinião sobre um caso em poucos minutos de uma matéria e é por isso que não se pode praticar jornalismo dessa forma: ao expôr ao ridiculo uma pessoa em rede televisiva, a imagem que fica é essa: “O garoto é ridiculo, um ladrão e provavelmente um estuprador” pronto, o garoto passa de ladrão reincidente para criatura hedionda, tem sua imagem destruída e a sua resposta não será ouvida por quase ninguém.

The press is one of the most powerful organs which a society possesses. A television programme with a large audience, like Brasil Urgente, manages to form an opinion on a case in a few minutes on the subject and this is why we cannot practise journalism in this way: by ridiculing a person on television, the image which remains is this: “The young man is ridiculous, a thief and probably a rapist”. Well, the young man moves from being a habitual thief to a hideous creature, his image is destroyed and his reply will be heard by almost nobody.

Journalist and professor Laurindo Lalo Leal Filho, who specialises in media regulation, expresses [pt] his surprise:

“neste tipo de programa policialesco violações aos direitos humanos são comuns”.  [...] “mas eu nunca vi o comportamento de uma repórter que chegasse a este nível de humilhação. Ela extrapolou todos os limites éticos da profissão. Inclusive, acredito, infringido normas legais ao colocar em situação vexatória uma pessoa em situação de fragilidade. Foi além de todas as barbaridades já cometidas por esse tipo de programa”.

“in this kind of whodunnit-type programmes, violations of human rights are common”. [...] “but I have never seen the behaviour of a reporter sink to this level of humiliation. She went beyond all the ethical limits of the profession. Including, I believe, infringing legal norms by putting a vulnerable person in a vexatious situation. She went further than all the other dreadful acts already committed by this type of programme.”

The journalist Cristóvão Feil advocates [pt] the fact that “a regulatory framework is necessary in the Brazilian media, so that rubbish like this is not presented as a programme for entertainment and education”. He still asks himself whether “the journalist would have acted in this way, and felt so at ease, so brazen, if the young man was white and a middle or upper class daddy's boy?”.

Blogger Alexandre Haubrich argues [pt] that “an analysis of the general state of affairs in the Brazilian media, added to a concern for constitutional precepts and universal human rights, is the most complete and complex manner by which to demonstrate the absolute necessity for regulation of the Brazilian media, moving forward within a new framework for communication in the country” and he adds:

O que temos ali, além de preconceito, covardia e desumanidade, é tortura. Mirella tortura o acusado durante três minutos. Tortura verbal, não física, mas não menos humilhante. É a espetacularização da notícia, o circo dos horrores em rede nacional. Nada de notícia, nada de informação, nada de prestação de serviços, nada de interesse público.

What we have here, besides prejudice, cowardice and inhumanity, is torture. Mirella tortures the accused for three minutes. Verbal torture, not physical, but no less humiliating. It is the spectacularisation of the news, the circus of horrors of the national network. Nothing to do with news, nothing to do with information, nothing to do with the provision of services, no concern for the public interest.
. Open access image”]Twitter campaign #SensacionalismoForaDoAr (Sensationalism Off Air). Open access image

Twitter campaign #SensacionalismoForaDoAr (Sensationalism Off Air). Open access image

Thales Barreto, from the blog Simulações (Simulations), thinks similarly, but also adds [pt] that those who watch this or similar programmes are equally responsible:

Em nome da liberdade de expressão se permite coisas absurdas como essa. Que penalidade terá a jovem Mirella? E a rede Bandeirantes, ficará de impune nessa história? Já a audiência também tem sua participação nesse show de horrores. Não podemos esquecer se esse tipo de programa sensacionalista tem público vasto, que aprova esse tipo nojento de jornalismo.

In the name of freedom of expression, absurd things like this are permitted. What punishment will the young Mirella receive? And the Bandeirantes Network, will it too go unpunished in this case? The audience has already participated in this horror show. We cannot forget that this type of sensationalist programme has a huge audience, which approves of this repulsive style of journalism.

The journalist Altino Machado published an open letter [pt] signed by more than 50 journalists condemning the Bandeirantes network, the journalist Mirella Cunha and the programme Brasil Urgente and asking the state government and the Public Ministry to intervene in this and in other programmes which promote the abuse of human rights:

Pedimos ainda uma ação do Ministério Público da Bahia, que fez diversos Termos de Ajustamento de Conduta para diminuir as arbitrariedades dos programas popularescos, mas, hoje, silencia sobre os constantes abusos cometidos contra presos e moradores das periferias da capital baiana.

We ask for action from the Public Ministry of Bahia, which has established various Terms of Behavioural Adjustment to reduce the arbitrary actions of popular programmes, but which today is silent regarding the constant abuse committed against prisoners and inhabitants of the outskirts of the Bahian capital.

On May 22nd, a Twitter campaign #SensacionalismoForaDoAr [pt] (Sensationalism Off Air) was held to protest against the human rights violations promoted by sensationalist television programmes.

The Federal Public Ministry of Bahia opened [pt] a representation against the journalist for signs of the violation of Paulo Sérgio's constitutional rights on May 23rd. And on the same day, the Bandeirantes Network stated [pt] that the journalist Mirella Cunha would be dismissed without, however, taking any responsibility whatsoever for the editorial style of the programme.

  • Kasnar Burns

    Wow!!. I’m an American and I do not speak Portuguese well if at all. I did find it strange how the reporter was laughing at times and the person she was interviewing apparently found nothing humorous. And what was with the crying baby soundtrack? Even without understanding the language, I can see that this was meant to make a buffoon of the young man. I’ve been trying to think of anything shown in America which is similar. The closest thing I can think of is a skit done by late night talk show host Jay Leno where he sometimes interviews passersby on the street and ask them questions that most Americans should know about our country. He always finds a bunch of people who are ignorant about basic American history but it’s never one person or one demographic.

    • Paula Góes

      Hello Kasnar,

      I regret to say that those type of programmes are very common all over Brazil, both on local and national level. The formula is the same: humiliate and despise basic human rights. I am surprised it took so long for the public to react against it!

      Best
      Paula

      • Kasnar Burns

        I wish I had known of this issue a year ago. At the time I was teaching English to a native Brazilian family and the father ran a TV station. I would like to have insinuated the issue into the conversation without seeming judgmental or disapproving. I’ve also been to Rio several years ago and was advised about some manifestations of racism. I personally did not have any bad experiences (I’m African-American) but I often saw great inequities in living standards. Looking from the outside it’s difficult to ascertain what effects such programming would have on attitudes within a society. Unfortunately, amongst any group or society, there are those who are perceived as being on the top and those perceived as being on the bottom. Those perceived to be on the bottom are stigmatized in all manner of ways.

  • hannah

    hi, how could i find the english version of this video please? thank you :)

  • Zuleide Ribeiro Leonardo

    From the United States of America, I, a black woman who know how the International world portray blonde brazilian, as she was laughing, I am laughing at her. She does not know that if she ever decides to forget this video. Her disdain is the rape on her career. Her entire life. To the black young man, education can be given. Things can change for him. For the blonde brazilian witch, now what the future holds for her?
    Eventually, she will grow old, and someone younger will take her place. If her replacement is not already in process.
    Yeah! TV is Media! You Tube is International View Media in mega dimension.

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