quarta-feira, 3 de agosto de 2016
How not to write about Rio
How not to write about Rio
International media should shelve tired clichés and pay attention to local struggles pre- and post-Olympics.
8/3/16, 5:29 AM CET
RIO DE JANEIRO — With an estimated 30,000 journalists set to descend on Rio de Janeiro to cover the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, we can expect samba beats, aerial beach shots and moving stories of superhuman athletic feats to dominate international media coverage. We’re also sure to see a number of predictable mistakes: false information, sensational reporting on violence and poverty and, as the Games come to a close, the usual rush to label them a resounding “success.”
Foreign journalists unfamiliar with Rio have already made bewilderingly incorrect claims. Rio is not the capital of Brazil, as a surprising number of articles have suggested. According to Australia’s Herald Sun, 75 percent of Rio residents live in favelas. The actual figure is closer to 25 percent. The error must have left Aussie athletes a little nervous, especially when the Australian Olympic Committee categorically labeled favelas as dangerous “no-go zones.” USA Today claimed 40 percent of Rio favela residents use crack — a terrifying suggestion and, of course, an enormous exaggeration.
“Slum” is a lazy translation; these working class communities are not all impoverished.
These errors reflect an already inescapable cliché: Rio’s favela neighborhoods are the city’s “infamous,” or “notorious,” “underbelly.” These overused, sensationalist phrases need to be retired.
Yes, most favelas lack adequate sewage infrastructure, and some favelas are sites of drug trafficking and violence — symptoms of decades of government neglect alternating with government oppression. But contrary to what fans of “City of God” or “Elite Squad” or the Daily Mail might imagine, less than 1 percent of favela residents are involved in trafficking. Most favelas have no trafficking presence at all.
Paramilitary police personnel man a checkpoint on a bridge in the Cidade de Deus shantytown, 10km from the Olympic Village Rio de Janeiro | Tony Barros/AFP via Getty Images
Paramilitary police personnel man a checkpoint on a bridge in the Cidade de Deus shantytown, 10km from the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro | Tony Barros/AFP via Getty Images
“Slum” is a lazy translation; these working class communities are not all impoverished. And most homes are built sturdily of brick, so “shantytown” is a misnomer too.
If there’s one thing that can shift this narrative, it’s the proliferating network of social media savvy community journalists and activists from the favelas and the city’s periphery. They denounce human rights violations and abandoned promises of a brilliant Olympic legacy. They document the diversity, communal memory, identities and resistance of these historically marginalized neighborhoods.
The more international journalists engage with these community leaders, the more meaningful and informed foreign reporting on the city’s Olympic moment will be.
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Despite these missteps, the international press has done good work in highlighting the gap between the government’s rosy rhetoric and the more complicated reality. There have been some excellent investigative and news pieces about pre-Olympic Rio that explore citizens’ day-to-day experiences in a transforming city and examine what is driving development. A Guardian interview with billionaire Olympics developer Carlos Carvalho sparked reactions from Brazilian media and the mayor when Carvalho admitted his desire to create a city “of good taste” by excluding the poor.
The media is compiling evidence that the average Brazilian doesn’t stand to gain much from the Games, and that claims the event would create a better, more modern city for all were always a brazen bluff.
In response to the scrutiny, Rio’s mayor Eduardo Paes felt compelled to respond with no less than three opinion pieces in English-language outlets this July, to dispute “all the pessimism.”
But, sadly, much of the reporting unabashedly neglects the average Rio resident and focuses exclusively on potential threats to Olympic athletes and tourists. Articles decry sewage in the water because it may affect the athletes, not because it has destroyed the livelihoods of fishermen or because it poses a serious health risk to locals.
If there’s one mistake … international media should avoid, it is letting the big sporting event overshadow critical narratives
Journalists ponder whether athletes and tourists will be safe, without reflecting on why Rio’s crime and violence rates are so high in the first place, or questioning what effect an expanded force of 85,000 security officers will have in a city where killings by police are a common occurrence.
Olympic rings made of recycled materials are illuminated in the early morning at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro
If there’s one mistake that international media should avoid, it is letting the big sporting event overshadow critical narratives, and then abandoning them completely once the circus leaves town.
This has happened before. Ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the media openly questioned the monetary and social costs of hosting the event. Brazil-wide protests in 2013 helped ensure local activists’ questions of “World Cup for who?” and “At what cost?” were picked up by international press.
A member of the Puerto Rico women's Olympic volleyball team takes a "selfie" photograph during a team training session in Rio de Janeiro | Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
A member of the Puerto Rico women’s Olympic volleyball team takes a “selfie” photograph during a team training session in Rio de Janeiro | Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
Then, following an immensely entertaining football tournament — in which Brazil suffered a bitter loss to Germany in the semi-finals — international headlines like this one from the New York Times proclaimed, “Success for Brazil, just not on the field.” Similarly, Bloomberg News predicted “Brazil’s success at hosting World Cup bodes well for Olympics,” while the BBC examined “How Brazil silenced its critics.”
“Will it be ready?” hysteria always precedes major events. As a result, the host country receives praise for simply seeing the event through from start to finish.
Before the 2014 World Cup, thousands of families were removed to clear the way for infrastructure. At least eight construction workers died during preparations, a newly constructed overpass bridge collapsed and killed two people, activists were preemptively arrested, protesters were tear-gassed — the real answer to “How Brazil silenced its critics” — and Brazilian taxpayers were left with an enormous bill.
Media outlets are quick to claim these types of events a success based on unspecified — but apparently low — standards.
In declaring the tournament to be an unequivocal “success” for Brazil, the international media failed to do its job. As mega-events geographer Christopher Gaffney observed, “the pessimists were either shunted aside, swept up in the euphoria, or never interviewed again.”
This shift in discourse is typical. Media outlets are quick to claim these types of events a success based on unspecified — but apparently low — standards.
Political scientist Jules Boykoff examined Canadian coverage of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and found that reports before the Games were more critical and inclusive of dissenting views, whereas as the event wrapped up, media “championed the Olympics as a success.”
This superficial treatment is a serious problem. It whitewashes the immense economic and socio-political side-effects of hosting a mega-event. It reassures future hosts that they too will not be held accountable to their bold bid claims. Blind, celebratory discourse hinders efforts to demand meaningful change in the way these events are held.
In a city like Rio, a verdict of “success” would undermine the legitimacy and urgency of the population’s ongoing struggles as an economic crisis erodes public services. It would set back the significant work done by activists to draw attention to these pressing issues.
Journalists should not abandon critical reporting during and after the Games. Only by continuing to ask tough questions will they empower Rio’s civil society and bring about the reform mega-events desperately need.
Cerianne Robertson is research coordinator for Catalytic Communities, a Rio-based organization that provides media and networking support to favela communities, and its watchdog news platform RioOnWatch.org.