In Brazil, the power of the media to celebrate the diversity of its population, particularly citizens of African descent, has rarely been harnessed. Paulo Rogerio Nunes is training black and white media professionals to foster interracial understanding in mass and alternative media. Paulo Rogerio also advocates and facilitates the inclusion of diversity issues in the curricula of journalism faculties in Brazilian universities and assists the black movement to employ effective communication techniques to achieve its goals.
The New Idea
Approximately half of some 191,000,000 Brazilian citizens regard themselves as wholly or partially of African descent, yet Brazilian news media, which shapes public discourse and strongly influences public policy, remains overwhelmingly white. (A recent study indicates that only 5.5 percent of Brazil’s communications professionals are black.) In 2005 Paulo Rogerio created the Institute for Ethnic Media (IME), to correct this imbalance and to change the ways in which both black and white media professionals understand and depict Brazil’s diverse population.
Paulo Rogerio’s work is based on his strong conviction that a greater degree of diversity among media professionals and improved coverage of race-related topics will play pivotal roles in helping Brazilian society handle issues of racial equality more effectively. He targets media staff, black-led citizen organizations (COs), and public officials with different initiatives.
Thus far, Paulo Rogerio’s work has been focused on the state of Bahia, but he is developing plans for the replication of all these programs in other states in the Northeast of Brazil and, as resources permit, in other parts of the country.
Since the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, the continued existence of racism has more often than not been denied by prominent observers of Brazilian society. Paradoxically, Brazil’s major media companies, which are culturally conservative, politically powerful, and rarely held accountable for their stance on social issues, have been blatantly racist both in their gross underrepresentation of blacks on their staff, and the content they produce. When black people do appear in newspaper or magazine articles or on television, they are commonly portrayed stereotypically—reinforcing the deeply engrained prejudices of many white Brazilians.
The existence and consequences of racial disparities in the media are particularly in evidence in Bahia, Brazil’s fifth most populous state, and in Salvador, the state capital, where 83 percent of the population is Afro-descendent. The Educational TV of Bahia, linked to the government of Bahia, employs no black producers, reporters and journalistic program hosts, and, among the small numbers of black professionals in other major media organizations in Bahia, few if any occupy decision-making positions or play active roles in fighting racism. Moreover, until Paulo Rogerio’s recent interventions, the curricula of faculties of journalism and communications in Bahia’s universities did not equip students with the knowledge or the motivation to address these deficiencies.
The black movement in Bahia and elsewhere in Brazil has met with little success in attempting to influence the policies and practices of major media organizations. Some black activists have proposed the creation of separate black media, but have made little headway. Others favoring “affirmative action” strategies have met with a similar lack of success, and still others have adopted a militant stance that has limited their willingness and ability to engage with communication professionals or powerful media organizations. As a consequence, until its recent collaboration with Paulo Rogerio’s initiative, the black movement has failed to make use of effective communication strategies to advance its aims.
Paulo Rogerio and his colleagues are using a conciliatory, rather than confrontational approach to tackle the underrepresentation of blacks in media organizations and the misrepresentation of blacks in news coverage and stories those organizations produce.
The initial strategy is the formation of partnerships with university-based programs in journalism and communications for the development of new courses to expose students—white and black—to issues relating to racism and diversity in news and media practices. In 2006 Paulo Rogerio partnered with the Federal University of Bahia, the leading university in Salvador, to introduce a course entitled “Media and Racism.” This successful initiative has helped to stimulate the introduction of similar courses in two other universities in Salvador—the Social Faculty of Bahia (FSBA) and the Jorge Amado University Center—and provided teaching materials for both programs. At FSBA, the course “Journalism, Citizenship, and Diversity” now enrolls approximately 60 students per semester, and in the fall of 2009, two other higher education institutions in Bahia introduced similar courses.
The second strategy employes strategic alliances, or close working relationships with major media companies. For example, IME has entered into an agreement with Jornal a Tarde, a major newspaper in Salvador, under which IME staff train the newspaper’s journalists and other key staff on race- and diversity-related issues. Jornal a Tarde has also agreed to allocate newspaper space to cover topics of priority concern for the black movement. Similarly, in response to IME’s urging, the State Radio Broadcasting Company of Bahia, another IME partner, recently created the program, “Black Tunes” to air race-related issues and concerns.
Two closely related strategies involve helping key black-led COs develop more effective communications strategies and offering training programs that equip young black leaders with enhanced communication skills. The Black Tunes initiative may be understood as one facet of this strategy. Another facet is the encouragement and capacity-building services IME has provided for newly created “communication committees” associated with several recent gatherings, including the First National Meeting of Black Youth, the First Brazilian Congress of Blacks, and the Conference of Racial Equality. During the first two years of operations, IME trained approximately 600 young black communicators, many of whom are now pursuing careers in the communications field. In 2008 Paulo Rogerio also entered into a partnership with the Video Volunteers Initiative, which is using IME’s methodology to train the staff of four COs.
Leveraging the growing national recognition he has earned for his work on media and communications issues, Paulo Rogerio is increasingly engaged in advocating policies that support important steps toward racial equality in the media, set improved standards for the treatment of race- and rights-related issues in the media, and prescribe more effective mechanisms for monitoring adherence with those standards and punishing violators. Paulo Rogerio’s organization spearheaded a dialogue among a coalition of some 30 black organizations. They presented recommendations reflected in the state of Bahia’s adoption of a significantly improved public stance on diversity issues. As a result of the coalition’s prodding, the Government of Bahia recently organized and hosted Brazil’s First State Conference on Communications, which is stimulating similar events in other parts of the country. In addition, Paulo Rogerio recently succeeded in establishing an unprecedented partnership with the Public Ministry in Bahia to monitor and address rights violations and racism in mass media—an undertaking that bore fruit earlier this year when a state court issued a ruling requiring a television station to discontinue the transmission of a highly offensive show depicting black people as criminals.
Paulo Rogerio is also developing plans to open IME offices (perhaps in partnership with other organizations) in Sao Paulo and Brasilia to help spread his initiatives to other parts of the country. He recently received support from the Ford Foundation for the systematization and expansion of his efforts and the development of sustainability strategies over the long-term.
Paulo Rogerio was born in one of the most impoverished and violence-ridden suburbs of Salvador. During his adolescence he found a job in the more affluent center of the city, and was disturbed to observe that almost all of the black people whom he routinely encountered in that part of the city worked as servants or domestic helpers.
With strong support from his family, Paulo Rogerio enrolled in and completed a technical school (high school equivalent) education in data processing. Having experienced racial discrimination as a youngster, he enlisted several of his fellow students in the technical school in various campaigns against racism and in community service projects, including teaching IT skills to residents of the community where he was born and raised.
Paulo Rogerio went on to pursue university studies at Catholic University of Salvador, Salvador, where he founded the university’s “Nucleus of Black Students,” a forum for the discussion of issues relating to identity, ancestry, and “resistance,” and met people from Sao Paulo who kindled his interest in racial equality in the media. During Paulo Rogerio’s university years, he also participated in the National Committee of Communication Students, where he helped to create the “Combat Against Oppression Group”; to explore diversity-related issues with students from around the country. It was in the deliberations of the latter group that Paulo Rogerio decided to devote his long-term energy to expanding the roles and perceptions of Afro-Brazilians in the communications field. He also developed his non-confrontational stance and began to create new and innovative media-related strategies to influence the thinking and behavior of Brazil’s black and white communities on race- and diversity-related concerns.
After completing his university studies, Paulo Rogerio entered the Open Minds and Open Doors project of the Steve Biko Institute in Salvador. He studied international relations, leadership, and management skills, and met and learned from some of the most prominent leaders of the black movement in Bahia. Paulo Roderio also did an internship with Educational TV of Bahia, where he learned some of the inner workings of a media organization. He concluded that it is necessary to build effective training programs in order to change staff hiring and staff performance practices. These experiences and insights led to the founding of the Institute Ethnic Media (2005) and its formalization in 2007.