September 13, 2022

Stories of Indigenous and Black populations in Latin America must be told in their own voices, journalists said in panel about diversity

To counteract hate narratives and the invisibilization suffered by Indigenous, Afro-descendant and Black communities in Latin America, journalists must give a voice to these populations, know their realities in depth and avoid their re-victimization.

Those were some of the recommendations given by the guests of the panel “Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendant populations in Latin America.” It was the first panel of the 2nd Latin American Conference on Diversity in Journalism of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, which was held online on Sept. 9 and 10, 2022.

The panel included Zapotec journalist Diana Manzo of Agencia Istmo Press (Mexico); journalist and broadcaster Indhira Suero (Dominican Republic); and Edilma Prada, editor and reporter for the Agenda Propia platform (Colombia). The talk was moderated by María Teresa Juárez, Mexican screenwriter and journalist and part of the team behind the Knight Center’s diversity initiative.

The panelists discussed the coverage, agenda and approaches being taken by the region’s media on Indigenous, Afro-descendant and Black peoples, and made proposals on how to combat racist and colonialist approaches to these populations in journalism.

Manzo and Prada, who have experience covering Indigenous communities in Mexico and Colombia, respectively, agreed that it is essential to recognize the knowledge, worldviews and languages of Latin American Indigenous communities in order to provide fair coverage of these groups.

It is important to have allies within these communities, preferably a local journalist, who can guide reporters in aspects of the idiosyncrasy of the Indigenous peoples being covered, their ideas and languages, among others.

“There is always a journalist, there is always a chronicler, there is always a person who can be an ally within those communities. We cannot omit them when reporting,” Manzo said.

Manzo, the journalist of Zapotec origin, highlighted the importance of being transparent with the Indigenous communities at all times about the intentions of the coverage, as well as the goal and the benefit it represents for the community itself.

Giving visibility to the languages of Indigenous communities in journalism contributes to their preservation and to the very cultures to which they belong, Prada and Manzo agreed. The latter celebrated that nowadays there are more and more journalistic works in which Indigenous languages are present, as well as multilingual feature stories.

“Indigenous languages are disappearing, so it is important first to understand what the essence of Indigenous languages means for Indigenous peoples, because if a language dies, an entire culture is dying. So it is important to recover and understand the languages from the communicators themselves,” Prada said.

María Teresa Juárez moderated the discussion of journalists Edilma Prada, Diana Manzo and Indhira Suero
María Teresa Juárez moderated the discussion of journalists Edilma Prada, Diana Manzo and Indhira Suero. (Photo: Screenshot)

Prada, the Colombian journalist, said that it is necessary for journalistic organizations to recognize that there are Indigenous journalists doing journalism based on their own knowledge, who, given the lack of opportunities in urban media, have created their own media outlets.

She also stressed the importance of collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous journalists.

“The journalism that those of us who are not Indigenous do presents very marked gaps,” she said. “There is an absence of bridges, there is an absence of voices from the [Indigenous] territories, there are some types of criminalization with the word, information that does harm, from a headline to an erroneous way of using a photograph.”

With this in mind, Prada founded Agenda Propia 11 years ago. It’s an organization that developed a methodology of intercultural collaborative journalism and consists of bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous interdisciplinary teams to produce feature stories.

All work under this methodology begins with what Prada calls “circles of the word,” which are conversation gatherings between Indigenous and non-Indigenous journalists and members of the communities they intend to cover. In those gatherings, an editorial agenda and a series of agreements are created to talk about the realities of these peoples, respecting their territories, their visions, adding multiple voices and providing sufficient context.

“The voices of ethnic communities, the voices of Black or Afro communities have been made invisible because the media always come out with only one voice, the official voice, and the official voice is often not part of these ethnic peoples,” Prada said.

It is important, Prada said, to make sure that the finished journalistic product goes back to the community from which it came. That the content is disseminated and known among the members of that community, so that they can also benefit from it. In this way, “information extractivism” is avoided.

“Precisely, the methodology aims to do just that, that the Indigenous journalist or Indigenous storyteller be part of the creation and later the dissemination be also done on all these [digital] platforms, but also returns to the territory,” she said.

Social invisibilization not only affects Indigenous peoples, but also Afro-descendant and Black communities in Latin America. According to figures presented by Indhira Suero at the conference, some 133 million people of African descent live in Latin America and are considered the most invisible minority.

Added to this invisibilization in the media are stereotypes, which, although they have helped people to have some knowledge of what Afro-descendant communities are like, have also contributed to creating a limited image of them, she said.

According to Suero — the creator of “la Negrita Come Coco,” a character that promotes Afro-descent and popular Dominican culture on the web — the media tends to limit its coverage of Black populations by showing them as victims, as in the case of victims of natural disasters or poverty; as aggressors, when they commit crimes; and as hypersexualized subjects, mainly in the case of Afro-descendant women.

“That is why it is important that we learn more about these communities, that we learn more about their history, their culture. We are not going to become experts in terms of these types of issues, but we need to understand,” Suero said. “That is going to help us have much more inclusive and much fairer coverage of communities that for years have been silenced.”

Suero also recommended approaches that journalists can take to provide fairer coverage of Afro-descendant populations. One of them is to address issues involving Afro and LGBTI+ people, as well as Afro-descendant issues in urban areas. Also to cover situations of underage Black women, racism and migration issues, among others.

She also urged journalists to include Afro-descendant people in coverage of issues outside the usual topics of these populations, including as expert voices.

“The first [recommendation] is to know and of course give a voice to these people, not only when they are victims or when they are victimizers,” she said. “There are many Afro-descendant professionals throughout the continent who have the capacity to talk about economics, art, literature, and so on. We should not only think of Afro-descendants for issues of Afro-descendancy, or for issues of victimization, or crimes, or — in the case of women — to show them in a sensual and captivating way.”

Suero agreed with Manzo’s recommendation that journalists should avoid seeing Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities as merchandise, in the sense of coming to their territories and “using them” for the purposes of coverage, without considering their history, needs and visions.

Likewise, both journalists stressed the importance of using the correct terms to refer to these populations, such as using the term “enslaved people” or “in a situation of slavery” instead of “slaves.” Or asking Indigenous people how they would like to be named in the journalistic piece according to their customs and traditions.

“There is a narrative of hope, which are the voices of the communities, how they heal, how they recover. What their struggles are like, what their various resistances are like and how they have managed to solve a problem when historically there has been absence of the State,” Prada said. “In the face of that narrative of hate, I think a journalist has to counter it with a narrative of hope.”

The pressure of niche media starts to have a ripple effect

Prior to the first panel, the 2nd Latin American Conference on Diversity in Journalism featured special guest Ana Fornaro, co-founder and co-director of Agencia Presentes, from Argentina, who spoke about the evolution of this organization since its founding in 2016.

Agencia Presentes is a news agency based in Buenos Aires that covers LGBTQ rights and human rights issues with a gender focus. It was founded in response to the reality that such issues were not being properly covered by mainstream media in Latin America. Fornaro, originally from Uruguay, and María Eugenia Ludueña, from Argentina, thought of creating a news outlet with a regional perspective and focused on these populations, and under a breaking news logic.

“Our project was to function as a news agency specializing in that subject matter and to take the tools of journalism that both María Eugenia and I have used in newsrooms throughout our careers,” Fornaro said. “But above all, to put the people who are the protagonists of these stories in the spotlight, at the center, and for stories to be told in their own voices, which was not happening.”

Ana Fornaro is co-director and co-founder of Agencia Presentes
Ana Fornaro is co-director and co-founder of Agencia Presentes. (Photo: Screenshot)

Fornaro said that, despite the challenges of building an independent and self-managed news outlet, to date the agency is present in eight countries. It recently opened an office in Mexico City, so that it now is coordinated from the two opposing poles of Latin America.

Fornaro highlighted that Agencia Presentes has served as an inspiration for the emergence of other gender and human rights journalism organizations in the region. But she also underscored the fact that larger news outlets have begun to address LGBTQ+ issues more seriously.

“[Our news outlet] was also born to see if we could somehow spread these ways of doing journalism. We were interested in getting journalists from other media to become interested in the subject,” she said. “We are very happy to see that there is more and more space for training on sexual diversity and journalism, working closer to sexual diversity activism, to regional organizations that are the ones that bring us the stories and are the people who are fighting every day to create a fairer world. And for this to reach journalism is very important.”

This year the organization launched Escuela Presentes, a training department that systematizes the series of workshops it has been offering in recent years. In July it offered its first virtual workshop, “Journalism with a focus on gender and diversity,” in addition to offering a series of resources for people interested in covering LGBTQ+ issues.

Fornaro said that Agencia Presentes has begun to open its coverage to addressing other minorities beyond LGBTQ+ populations, such as Indigenous communities, Afro-descendant populations and people with disabilities, which have issues in common and can therefore be covered in an intersectional manner.

“We realized along the way that we had to start making more transversal cuts and that we are not just one thing, just one label, but that people intersect many identities,” she said, “Sometimes identity can help us focus, make us visible, but it also restricts us.”

In the face of polarization and hate speech, which are so prevalent in Latin America, one of the challenges for journalism, Fornaro said, is to bring diversity issues to people beyond niche audiences of alternative and specialized media, such as Agencia Presentes.

One way to get closer to this goal, she said, is to integrate people from these populations, whose rights have historically been violated and who have been underrepresented in the discourse, into newsrooms themselves.

Fornaro acknowledged that progress has been made as a result of the pressure that small newsrooms such as Agencia Presentes have exerted in the Latin American media ecosystem to promote fairer coverage of historically invisible populations.

“I think some efforts are yielding results and that is something to be celebrated,” Fornaro said. “We also have to think about how to include in coverage positive and luminous experiences that are not only about violence, crimes and violations of rights.”