Silencing the Favelas: How the Brazilian Media Covered the Death of Marielle Franco

Marielle Franco was most widely recognized for her role as a city councilwoman in Rio de Janeiro’s municipal chamber, her strong stance against police brutality, and, most importantly, for her identity as a bisexual black Brazilian woman who fought for the rights of those living in the favelas, or Brazilian slums, considered Rio’s most marginalized population.

However, the same positions that put her at the forefront of the favelas’ growing social movements also made her a target for Brazil’s powerful and corrupt actors who benefit from a culture of silence.

On March 14, Marielle attended a forum on Brazil’s black women activists as a part of her continuous efforts to help empower racial minorities in what is often considered a highly segregated society. While returning from the event, Franco, along with her driver Anderson Gomes, was killed by two unidentified gunmen in their car. Brazilian police consider this attack to be targeted and politically motivated, and most likely carried out by corrupt policemen.

The narrative of Brazil’s mass news media outlets

Coverage of Marielle Franco’s death has dominated the headlines of Brazil’s largest news media networks over the past few weeks, as protests denouncing the injustice that led to her murder continue to grow across the country. However, the standard coverage of politically motivated deaths was not applied to Franco’s case, as she did not fit a victim’s usual profile, which often included involvement in organized crime or being guilty of corruption.

As evidenced by Franco’s last op-ed written for the newspaper Jornal do Brasil, she fought strongly against police brutality and therefore was against President Michel Temer’s new “Federal Intervention” policy. The policy aimed to reduce organized crimes in the favelas by increasing military presence over an extended period of time. However, Franco’s stance did not seem to fit within the pro-government narrative of Brazilian channels such as Globo, considered one of the country’s most influential broadcaster.

Globo is renowned for its detailed coverage of news stories involving the Brazilian military. Therefore, when it produced a two-hour special on Franco’s death, Franco’s Chief of Staff Renata Souza accused the network of sensationalizing her murder and creating a false narrative by highlighting certain aspects of the story and omitting others.

Claims of over-sensationalism are in reference to Globo’s simulation of Marielle Franco’s murder as part of its documentary on the politician.

However, the latter was not the first time such coverage was seen on the channel, as, when analyzed, the channel’s reporting on violence in the favelas seems to follow certain trends. The airing of live raids, military hardware, and the screaming of embedded journalists narrating the unfolding scene are common.

The over-saturation of such news reports, accompanied by the coverage surrounding Franco’s death, has led many Brazilian journalists such as Jorge Melo to claim that the result of these recycled narratives will be the legitimization of violence and the justification of military intervention in the favelas, which is exactly what Franco opposed.

Among the journalists voicing their concern about such sensationalist coverage is Leandro Demori, executive editor at The Intercept Brazil, who, in an interview on Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post, accused the reporting of military intervention to be both a television spectacle and a political power play.

Demori claims that the coverage works to meet key interests, with the first being commercially driven, as the airing of live military operations in Rio’s favelas increases its ratings. He then explains that these reports simultaneously complement the government’s agenda, which seeks to increase military presence in the favelas and divert the national conversation away from problems within Brazil’s political system.

Footage of a military operation in Rocinha aired on Globo’s newsmagazine “Fantastico”

The sensationalist coverage of violence in the favelas and the interests it meets could help create a sustainable media campaign which perpetuates the idea that the problem is not within the country’s institutions but found outside of them. Often, in the words of Franco, this problem has a “color, social class, and territory.”

Therefore, as protests continue in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, many continue to question how the power and nature of the images shown of the favelas are helping create the social context which led to the death of Marielle Franco in the first place.

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