One of the most substantial problems with the media-audience relationship is representation. Though journalism is supposed to be neutral, it has always been blatant that political bias is a reality that cannot be avoided. Though a piece of writing or a news reel might be balanced, by having both sides of the argument there is always an angle to present the information with. Editing, choosing quotes, structuring the piece, all of this depends on the opinion of the writer or the media outlet.
This has never been a secret. And the problem with it is that many times the work of journalists can fail to represent their audience’s interests because they are too out of touch. People might complain of the Daily Mail but it is incredibly unlikely that they will change their sexist, misogynistic, shaming agenda.
But in the last three weeks Brazilian protesters all over their country forced the media to change their angle on the movement completely. In the beginning of the protests newspapers were using words that implied all the protesters were being violent. One perfect example of this was the front page of O Globo in the first week of unrest that splayed the Turkish protests and the Brazilian manifestations. The headline referring to the Turkish unrest called the Turkish people ‘activists’. The headline pertaining to the Brazilian protests used the word ‘vandals’. Placed side by side it showed the clear right-wing intentions of the newspaper to make the protests into a violent, senseless affair.
Soon enough citizen reporters started posting photos of the peaceful movement on social media, saying that O Globo and Rede Globo weren’t reporting the protests correctly, and that they had been for the most part completely peaceful.
Those involved in the movement, be it online or on the streets, quickly started sharing personal accounts of the events, conspiracy theories and instructions on how to protest (including how to recuperate from inhaling tear gas). It became clear that no one was happy about how they were being represented and this issue started coming to the streets with everything else people were angry about. It wasn’t only that they were being misrepresented but Globo has been monopolizing information for the last two decades. It is the most watched free-view channel in the country, and the other options are scarce.
After a week or so of complaints the turning point came when a female reporter was forced to leave a protest after being antagonized furiously by protesters chanting at the top of their voices against Rede Globo. They sang “The people aren’t stupid, down with Rede Globo” and “The truth is harsh, Globo supported the dictatorship”. The reporter was driven away afraid they would hurt her. The same happened to a male reporter a few days later.
Soon Rede Globo reporters were forced to start using microphones without the network’s logo and to report from the roof of buildings looking over the protests as opposed to the ground.
That wasn’t the only thing that changed though. While broadcasting the violent action live from a helicopter, journalists continually said the movement was mostly peaceful and that the violent actions were completely isolated. The agenda, the angle, the opinions changed just like that. And even though people are still complaining online and would probably be hostile to any Globo reporter they recognize, the media in general has changed their tone. They are no longer disapproving or generalizing the movement.
It is not only an interesting phenomenon for any media geek, but also a point that should be taken by all journalists. Listening to your audience is and will always be important.
Photo courtesy of Michel de Souza.