Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera 19 Jan 2020

Racism in Portugal: A blind spot for the media?


In Portugal's election last October, Romualda Fernandes, Beatriz Gomes Dias, and Joacine Katar Moreira made history by becoming the first women of African descent elected to Parliament.

Dias, Gomes and Moreira all represent different political parties - the Socialist Party, Left Bloc and Livre, respectively - but their critiques of racism in Portuguese society have been credited with catalysing a debate that many see as long overdue.

A 2016 report by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, while noting that Portugal had grown more tolerant and inclusive over the previous two decades, criticised the persistence of "Afrophobia" and "institutional racism" in the country.

In the years since, Portugal - like much of Europe - has witnessed a spike in far-right sentiment, with the 2019 election also marking the first time a far-right party won a seat in Parliament since the fall of the Salazar dictatorship in 1974.

However, observing the way the debate played out in Portugal's mainstream media, one could get a rather different impression. A slew of opinion-makers - most, if not all, white - responded to concerns from anti-racist politicians and campaigners with a mixture of disbelief and denial: "Are the Portuguese racist?" asked the newspaper Sol. Columnists at the right-wing news website Observador were more definitive: "Portugal wasn't and isn't racist," wrote one; another, meanwhile, derided the "myth" of a racist Portugal.

"I think we're all racist," explains Observador's editor, Jose Manuel Fernandes, speaking to The Listening Post's Daniel Turi. "That's a battle that never ends. However, when it comes to institutional racism - I don't think that exists in Portugal."

For Moreira, member of parliament for Livre, reactions such as these came as no surprise: "This is very specific of Portuguese racism - the absolute denial that there is racism in Portugal."

In trying to explain this discourse of denial, some point to the lack of diversity in Portugal's media industry. Portuguese journalists of colour are few and far between - something that Fernandes, too, acknowledges can skew the reporting of race.

However, Portugal is not the only country with a diversity problem in its newsrooms. For many, a stronger explanation lies in an ideology of Portuguese exceptionalism - one with deep roots in the country's colonial past.

Portugal was the world's first global empire, with outposts across Africa, Asia and South America. From its beginnings in the 15th century all the way up to the handover of Macau to China in 1999, it was also the longest lasting.

Despite the many horrors of that history, including Portugal's leading role in the transatlantic slave trade, a sense of nostalgia for that era runs deep in the here and now. The media are no exception and appeals to a rose-tinted view of Portuguese colonialism are a common feature of the recent denials of racism in present-day Portugal.

"We travelled across Africa and Asia with native populations, had children with them and in many cases we assimilated them," notes the writer of the Sol article referenced above.

"Having this discourse about the past is then transferred to the present," says Joana Gorjao Henriques, author of Racism in Portugal. "As a result, the media are incapable of noticing the inequalities that exist in Portuguese society."

However, for Mamadou Ba, director of the NGO, SOS Racismo, these attempts to defend the colonial record are also a response to the fact that critiques of racism - both historical and contemporary - are more visible than in the past.

"There's a certain right-wing elite who are trying to glorify the colonial past. They're well aware that people of colour are getting more of a voice in the media, and so this is part of their strategy to undermine the rise of anti-racist politics."


Jose Manuel Fernandes - publisher, Observador

Mamadou Ba - director, SOS Racismo

Joana Gorjao Henriques - columnist, Publico and author, Racism in Portugal

Joacine Katar Moreira - member of parliament, Livre

On The Listening Post this week: How the downing of a Ukrainian passenger aircraft flipped the narrative in Iran. Plus, the challenges of reporting race in Portuguese media.

From mourning Soleimani to protesting against the regime
When a US drone strike killed Iran's most important military figure, General Qassem Soleimani, two weeks ago, it provided Tehran with an opening to rally the Iranian people to back their Islamic leaders against the United States.

For a few days, that seemed to be the case.

Then a passenger plane was shot down over Tehran, and Iran's leaders chose to lie to the public, before finally admitting three days later that they had taken the plane down by mistake.

Iranians have since taken to the streets - not to mourn the loss of a fallen soldier, but because they are outraged after years of official lies, ineptitude and impunity.

That messaging opportunity is long gone. The Iranian government now has a PR nightmare on its hands.

Arash Azizi - Writer and historian, New York University
Ali Vaez - Director, Iran Project, International Crisis Group
Hosein Ghazian - Author, journalist and sociologist
Sanam Shantyaei - Senior Journalist and anchor, Middle East Matters, France 24

On our radar
Richard Gizbert speaks to producer Johanna Hoes about cracks appearing inside the Murdoch empire when it comes to reporting on Australia's bushfires; and about the restoration of the internet in Kashmir - with caveats.

Racism in Portugal: A blind spot for the media?
A few months ago, three women of African descent - Beatriz Gomes Dias, Romualda Fernandes and Joacine Katar Moreira - made history, becoming the first black women elected to parliament in Portugal.

They have faced all kinds of racial abuse on social media.

In the mainstream media, the hostility has been more subtle but no less direct: Portuguese commentators and news columnists have contested the idea that racism even exists there.

This is a story rooted in a rose-tinted view of the country's history - its colonial past.

The Listening Post's Daniel Turi reports from Portugal on a state of denial in the country's media when it comes to race.

Jose Manuel Fernandes - Publisher, Observador
Mamadou Ba - Director, SOS Racismo
Joana Gorjao Henriques - Columnist, Publico and author, Racism in Portuguese
Joacine Katar Moreira - Member of Parliament, Livre
Media Stakeout by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on the recent rise in global tensions.

Secretary-General's statement to the press:

The New Year has begun with our world in turmoil.
We are living in dangerous times.
Geopolitical tensions are at their highest level this century.
And this turbulence is escalating.
Even nuclear non-proliferation can no longer be taken for granted.
This cauldron of tensions is leading more and more countries to take unpredicted decisions with unpredictable consequences and a profound risk of miscalculation.
At the same time, we see trade and technological conflicts that fracture world markets, undermine growth and widen inequalities.
And all the while, our planet is on fire. The climate crisis rages on.
In many parts of the world, we see many people frustrated and angry. We see increased social unrest and growing extremism, nationalism and radicalization, with a dangerous advance of terrorism, notably in Africa.
This situation cannot go on.
I have been following the recent rise in global tensions with great concern.
I am in constant contact with leading officials around the world.
My message is simple and clear:

Stop escalation.
Exercise maximum restraint.
Re-start dialogue.
Renew international cooperation.

Let us not forget the terrible human suffering caused by war. As always, ordinary people pay the highest price. It is our common duty to avoid it.
Thank you.
Iowans in and outside the state participated in so-called satellite caucuses for the first time in history.
For the media, in the Trump era, the apocalypse is every day that ends in 'Y.' #TheFive #FoxNews

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