by Luana Ferreira*
One of the most popular TV channels in Brazil, Band, will dedicate 50 minutes of its prime time airspace to talk about religious diversity and freedom of belief in Brazil. But it was not a decision that came from TV producers and management. It was forced1 upon the network following the decision of Federal Judge Paulo Cezar Neves Junior which condemned the channel for the hate speech against atheists delivered by the TV host José Luiz Datena in July 2010 during his TV Show Brasil Urgente.
The events leading to the Court decision were as follows. On 27 July 2010, during the live show, after reporting on the murder of a child, the TV host went on claiming that only an atheist could have committed such a crime because, according to him, people who do not believe in God have no moral values or boundaries and are capable of doing anything. Later on in the show, the presenter opened a call-in poll in which viewers were invited to answer whether they believed in God or not. Unsurprisingly, the presenter kept motivating believers to call and continued to assure viewers that he did not want atheists watching his show.
Ironically, Brasil Urgente is known for reporting all sorts of crimes with often shocking images, and has built its audience thanks to the actions of people who are – as the presenter believes – “without God”, and without whom he would very likely be either jobless or just another anonymous Brazilian journalist .
Brazil has the largest number of Catholics in the world. It also prides itself on being a country where various beliefs can be expressed without discrimination. However, this may not be the case in practice as, according to research conducted by the Perseu Abramo Foundation in 2009, atheists are the most hated group in Brazil. Perhaps due to their Christian foundations, a large percentage of Brazilians understand God as being synonymous with moral values. Many people still believe that love, goodness, justice, ethics and a sense of empathy with others are only possible with a deity. In other words, humans would not be capable of any good without divine influence. This line of thinking leads to the assumption that a lack of God would bring us to the opposite path: the evil atheist capable of any atrocity. Thinking this way, many reject the notion that it is possible to be good without believing in a god, which then leads to increasing prejudice and discrimination against non-believers in the country.
Media professionals must be aware of their role in society and of their power as opinion leaders. Television, the internet and newspapers are all important tools with the power to both reinforce and to break down prejudices. All professions working with this powerful tool that is communication should be well prepared and aware of the fine line between freedom of speech and hate speech.
In addition to the potential damage directly inflicted on minority groups by comments such as those made by José Luiz Datena on Brasil Urgente, as well as the potential damage done to society as a whole, a further problem is that many will find in Datena’s words an endorsement for their hate. Hate speech, such as that of Mr Datena, in a democratic and modern country as Brazil, which promises to all its citizens the right to express any faith (or no faith at all), goes against one of Brazil’s proudest features. No, I am not talking about samba or football, but the pride Brazilians often display in being a country of diversity. If it is so, there should be no room for discourse suggesting that the world can be divided between good and bad people according to their religious beliefs. Such sentiments should not be aired, especially not during prime time.
1 The network may still appeal the decision.↩
Human Rights & Democracy has chosen not to share the video of the abovementioned show for finding the content offensive.
Luana Ferreira has studied Journalism and currently works as a Press Officer in São Paulo, Brazil.
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