The contaminated journalism

John Wells, "Profiles", 1949.


It is the Brazilian-style racism that permeates the Folha de S. Paul

Last week, social networks were taken over by a controversy involving the anthropologist Antonio Risério, who published an article on January 16 in the Ilustríssima section of the newspaper A Folha de S. Paul entitled "Racism of blacks against whites gains strength with identityism”. In sequence, manifesto of more than 180 journalists criticized the text accusing it of being racist. Another group of people launched a letter of support to Risério.

O jornal Folha de S. Paul defended himself, through its editor Sérgio Dávila, with the usual argument in defense of pluralism and adding a certain threatening tone against the journalists who signed the manifesto. First, he states that “the text makes mistakes, is partial and makes unfounded accusations, three undesirable characteristics when dealing with journalism professionals”. Then he says “the Sheet it will continue doing the journalism that made it famous over the last 100 years, with a newsroom that is willing to implement with professionalism the principles defended by its Editorial Project: critical, non-partisan, independent and pluralistic journalism”. That is, that the journalists who signed had undesirable postures and that the Sheet it needs a newsroom willing to implement its project (which means not like these journalists did).

In this article I want to return precisely to this idea of ​​pluralism and diversity that seems to be a mantra in the newspaper's argumentation. In article published in the newspaper Each about the case of the departure of activist Sueli Carneiro from the Editorial Board and the text by Leandro Narloch about the “black women” I have already addressed this aspect initially. Important to understand the newspaper Folha de S. Paul within a political context resulting from the combination of a historically incipient democracy in Brazil, neoliberalism pressing for the restriction of democracy and the posture of the hegemonic media pressured by the new media ecosystem in which the information circulating through social networks gained space, harming the businesses of companies traditional media.


Sheet project history

In the late 1980s, when the movement for the democratization of Brazil was gaining strength and pushing for the end of the military dictatorship, the newspaper Folha de S. Paul begins to put into practice its new editorial project in line with the new times. After opting for the practice of self-censorship in the hardest period of the dictatorship (1970s) according to its own owners who justified what they called an “anodyne posture” as the only alternative for the company's survival; the emergence of new collective subjects in the scenario of democratization envisioned a possibility for the vehicle to occupy the space of promoting the public sphere that was being rebuilt.

Back in the 1980s, the newspaper Folha de S. Paul covered the actions of the student movement, created a debate page where personalities were invited to present analyzes and perspectives on current issues, there was an investment in setting up a team of columnists and even opened space to give visibility to social initiatives to combat the economic crisis . At the same time, it invested in establishing an industrial standard of journalistic production, establishing norms for capturing and writing, strict quality controls and almost imposing a certain ideological “engagement” within the newsroom. This process was brilliantly analyzed by professor Ciro Marcondes Filho in the work The news capital (Attica, 1989).

With the institutional democratization of the country being established after the 1980s, history created scenarios that were somewhat different from that of a certain part of the rebellious intellectuals of the 1970s. Brazil was never fully democratic: in the period considered “democratic” between 1945 and 1964, the Communist Party of Brazil was illegal, illiterates could not vote (and this meant almost 40% of the adult population), trade unions were subject to of the Ministry of Labour. And already at the end of the 1950s, in Rio de Janeiro, the Esquadrões da Morte appeared in Rio de Janeiro, precursors of what would be the parallel power of the security forces in current times.

What was always part of this idea of ​​“redemocratization” was the protagonism of certain segments of the intellectualized middle class whose actions were interdicted with the military dictatorship. The democratization of the late 1980s, even though it kept intact the repressive apparatus of the military dictatorship, including the possibility of military tutelage with the infamous article 142 of the Constitution, opened some windows of opportunity for a change in the political scenario. At the same time that this was happening, capitalism all over the world was entering its neoliberal phase, US imperialism was consolidating its position with the victory in the Cold War and there was an unprecedented conservative avalanche in that period.

This is the contradictory scenario in which the period of “redemocratization” embarked. And what direction did the so-called “Projeto Folha” and its enthusiastic journalists and intellectuals engaged in the struggle against the dictatorship in the 1970s take? As a company, it is a fact that the newspaper Folha de S. Paul embarked on the neoliberal wave, defending the ideas of a minimal State, privatization of state-owned companies, among others. To maintain the ideas of “diversity and plurality” as principles of democratic values; he came to treat the demands of social movements with skepticism. And all this was expressed in an alleged style "blasé” which synthesized the indifference and lack of indignation in the face of the very serious social problems that capitalism in the current phase generated with an alleged “progressism”.

Indifference is the only possible feeling within a conception of democracy that sees “diversity and pluralism” in a nation where the richest 1% concentrate more than 50% of the country's total wealth. And even more so when this political scenario begins to be occupied by black, poor, working subjects who press to occupy the public sphere without the need to be “represented” by an enlightened intellectual elite as many of the 1960s/70s generation wanted that would be so.


Aesthetics of social networks

More recently, the hegemonic media began to be pressured by the aesthetics of the new media ecosystem in which the public sphere became guided by a war of narratives. Argumentation was replaced by assertiveness and, at times, by aggressiveness and veracity replaced by verisimilitude. Instead of writers, digital influencers. And journalism became contaminated by what Paul Virilio calls “delusional professionalism” – depending more on the opinion of others than on the quality of your arguments.

The indifference and supposed skeptical behavior and “blasé” contaminates certain columnists when they realize that certain debates go beyond their controls. This is the case of the debate on racism in Brazil. As the discussion on structural racism advances through intellectuals and militants of the black movement, the impossibility of equating the problem of racism within the parameters of capitalism and liberalism becomes clearer.

At the same time, defending the maintenance of racism for a vehicle that built its image as a spokesman for democracy and human rights in the 1980s is a shot in the foot. The solution is formally to be against racism but not to include the fight against structural racism within the philosophy of the editorial project, which would imply, for example, establishing that racism should not be relativized. And then leave the theme as the object of a debate on the aesthetics of social networks, with assertiveness of all kinds, betting that the repercussion can give even more visibility to the vehicle in the same perspective as the big players of social networks: at the same time omitting a positioning (neutrality?) centering your business on the (alleged?) “freedom of opinion”. And for that, the FSP has a group of “provocateurs” who touch these wounds, like Risério himself, Narloch, Magnolli, among others.

But this pluralism and diversity so proclaimed by Folha de S. Paulo are not unlimited as they appear. Nations that do not follow the institutional model accepted by Western powers are not considered democracy (hence the qualification of Nicolas Maduro, president-elect of Venezuela, as a “dictator” and Fujimori, who carried out a coup d’état in Peru, as a “leader” or even “president”); Actions by social movements that question private property without a social function are labeled “invasions” (and not “occupations” as social movements classify these actions) and so on – there is no diversity and plurality in this regard.

In 2014, the company that edits the newspaper Folha de S. Paul was sued for allowing its employees to make racist jokes against a black worker providing service at the company. The company resorted to the well-worn allegation of those caught practicing racism: it was just a joke. The judge did not accept the allegation and condemned the company to compensate the worker who was the victim of racism. The newspaper appealed and also lost on appeal, although it obtained a significant reduction in the amount of compensation. (click here). This shows that the formal fight against racism in the newspaper is not directly linked to giving up white privileges. It is Brazilian-style racism that permeates the vehicle.

*Dennis De Oliveira He is a professor in the Journalism course at the School of Communications and Arts at USP and in the graduate programs in Social Change and Political Participation at EACH and in the Integration of Latin America (Prolam).


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