May 1, 2023
Rethinking practices, growing inclusion and combating hate speech are challenges for diversity in journalism, say experts at 16th Colloquium
One of the challenges in Latin America is exactly to understand what diversity is, which Mexican journalist Mariana Alvarado conceptualizes as “recognition of the uniqueness of each person from a human rights approach.”
In this sense, it is a much broader issue than gender diversity, actually encompassing the entire diversity of Latin American societies. “We also have the migrant population, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities,” she said.
Alvarado was part of a panel on “Diversity in Latin American news and newsrooms” during the second panel of the 16th Ibero-American Colloquium on Digital Journalism, which took place on April 16, 2023 at the University of Texas at Austin.
The conversation was moderated by Celeste González de Bustamante, professor and associate dean at UT Austin’s Moody College of Communication, and also featured journalists Belén Arce Terceros, from the Network for Diversity in Latin American Journalism; Daniela Mendoza, director general of Verificado MX; and Lu Ortiz, founder of Vita-Activa.org.
Alvarado, who is also part of the Network for Diversity in Latin American Journalism, stated that there have been considerable advances in the last 25 years, since two decades ago “talking about the LGBTQ+ community was impossible, unthinkable in Latin America,” due to the conservative and religious context in the region.
Among these advances are new formats to deal with the subject in traditional newspapers like El Espectador, from Colombia, which has the sections Las Igualadas and La Disidencia to deal with gender and sexual diversities. The emergence of niche media, such as Yo También, dedicated to people with disabilities, and Agenda Propia, specializing in intercultural coverage by and about Indigenous peoples, are also evidence of progress in the region, she said.
However, the pandemic imposed setbacks, Alvarado said, highlighting recent data from the Reuters Institute that point to a significant drop in the percentage of women occupying leadership positions in newsrooms between 2020 and 2023 in Brazil and Mexico.
“What happened to those women who were already in management positions? The pandemic arrived and many of them had to return home to take care of their children,” she said.
Another challenge related to diversity in journalism is combating stereotypes in news coverage and hate speech, she said.
Alvarado highlighted that the network has been working together with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas to promote diversity in Latin American journalism, by holding conferences and online courses and publishing an e-book on the subject.
“If any newsroom needs training, a conversation, we’re there,” she said.
Also a co-founder of the network, Belén Arce Terceros spoke about the lack of data on who is present and who is missing in Latin American newsrooms. She mentioned other groups that are often neglected in news coverage, such as people in economically vulnerable situations, the elderly and children and adolescents. Regarding the latter group, Terceros introduced data from Argentina, where children and adolescents are represented as victims or as the source of different types of violence and their perspectives are not considered in the coverage.
She also highlighted the importance of not only including new issues and subjects in news coverage, but also reflecting on the perspectives through which this inclusion is made, always taking into account the local context.
“Sometimes we think that [diversity] is only a human rights issue (…), but it also has to do with the quality of journalism,” because it’s about telling more complete stories, with more information, Terceros said.
Daniela Mendoza, director general of Verificado MX, spoke on the topic of disinformation from the perspective of sexual diversity. She brought up examples of the Mexican press reproducing stereotypes and LGBTQ-phobic speech in coverage related to transgender people and marriage equality.
“Words matter,” she said, adding that this wasn’t the only thing of importance. “It is not only how it is said, but what is said and how much space is allocated in the media to expose the situation.”
Mendoza also spoke about the importance of creating alternative narratives that tell positive stories of “achievements, contributions, creations” by LGBTQ+ people.
“We have to fight disinformation, because disinformation culminates in transphobia, institutional violence, homophobia. Disinformation is the breeding ground for hate speech and, on this particular issue, it is super relevant,” she said.
Lu Ortiz, founder of Vita-Activa.org, an organization that supports women and LGBTQ+ people, journalists, activists and human rights defenders, addressed the emergence of online violence against journalists. She emphasized high levels of gender-based violence against women journalists in the digital environment.
“It is already impossible to separate digital violence from physical violence. Those times are over (…). Everything that affects us is already moving from the technological to the physical,” she said.
She cited data from a study carried out by UNESCO and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) published in 2020, in which 73% of the 625 women journalists interviewed around the world said they had already been the target of online violence, and only 25% of them reported the attacks to their employers.
“There is also a co-responsibility with the people who employ us, who commission our articles, who finance our studies. We cannot continue to think that the journalist and the article, and the person who publishes the article, and the violence are disconnected. So if we’re going to do a Conga line, please also include your editors and the media for once,” Ortiz said.
She also cited cases of online violence experienced by journalists Patrícia Campos Mello, from Brazil, and Nayeli Roldán, from Mexico, and mentioned the attacks against journalists promoted by the governments of Rodrigo Chávez in Costa Rica and Nayib Bukele in El Salvador to illustrate the situation of emergency in which these professionals find themselves in the region.
However, Ortiz said she would like to end her speech and the panel with a message of hope.
“We already know where they come from and who the bad people are,” she said. “We can begin to prepare ourselves emotionally, digitally, organizationally, but above all in the media to combat them. There are many very beautiful tools, but the biggest one we have is this community. It is in a community manner that we face violence. Disinformation kills. But the comadres save you. We are a flock.”