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Violence in Rio Highlights the Necessity of Incorporating the Vision from the Periphery

10/02/2017 - 08h56



Everything that happens in Rio resonates nationally because it happened in Rio. The argument is frequently repeated that a spectacle is made of the violence in the city. The Atlas of Violence ranks Rio in 133rd position of the most violent cities in the country. But many people assume that it holds the title as the national champion in criminality.

After hosting the World Cup finals in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, a peak that seemed to be a bonanza after many years, the tide turned. The country entered into recession, the State went broke, and city hall reduced its investments by the maximum amount possible. In this critical scenario, after ten years of improvement in indices of criminality, insecurity has become widespread.

Two weeks ago, upon scaring Rio's rich southern zone, the violence took on the acute contours of a sharpening crisis.

The first sign that the situation was nearing the tipping point wasn't caught by Folha. The shootout started in the early morning hours on Sunday, the 17th of September. By morning, the Rocinha neighborhood would be an open stage for confrontation between drug trafficking groups that compete for drug sales. Folha's front page on Monday, the 18th, paid no attention to the episode.

In editions on the days that followed, the published reports didn't adequately reflect the real dimension of the problem. As I pointed out in an internal critique, the Rocinha case merited special attention, since it symbolized the resurgence of criminal factions occupying territory that ought to be under the control of the State.

On Friday, the 22nd, the National Armed Forces were called in to encircle Rocinha. At last, Folha seemed to have woken up and offered readers a better edition. It built up coverage and made editorial investments that stood out.

The general reporting tried to follow suit and sought out security specialists to explain what was happening and what could be done. It tried to be more analytical than factual. It wasn't successful.

With little creativity, the coverage repeated the script of other security crises. Readers seem to be tiring of the same old facts and the same old specialists.

The coverage sinned by depending on official sources and having little access to the area of confrontation or to people who live in areas surrounding it.

An example of a different moment for Folha was revealed on Monday, the 25th, when it published the testimony of writer Geovani Martins, who lives in Rocinha.

Reader Guilherme Braga Alves wrote that the article was "brilliant" and that, in just a few paragraphs, it was able to say more than a week's worth of reporting. The initiative was late, but commendable.

A resident of Campo Grande in the eastern zone, he criticized Folha's coverage for bias centered "around the lives of those who live in well-paved areas in the southern zone, the lives of those who only go by Rocinha when they pass through the tunnel on their way back and forth to the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood".

He pointed out that cases of violence in favelas (slums) in the northern and western zones are invisible to the press.

The reader concluded: "Folha is proud of the plurality of the hundreds of commentators who regularly contribute to its pages. As the Rocinha case has shown, this plurality is still not enough. For Folha to serve as a true portrait of Brazil, it needs to reflect the favelas and suburbs in its voice. It needs to include in its board of writers someone capable of articulating this vision".

The Brazilian press skims over the issue of public security and safety.

With 60,000 murders per year and 600,000 prisoners held in one of the largest penitentiary systems in the world, the coverage of security shouldn't just be on the agenda during moments of extreme violence and rebellions. The greater challenge is to cover the issue during the times without crisis, according to Silvia Ramos, a security expert and an accomplished media analyst.

"Incorporating young people from the periphery as narrators of the day-to-day urban violence seems essential to me in renewing the coverage of major newspapers", proclaims Ramos.

It's important to seek new proposals for focuses and themes to qualify the coverage of the epidemic of violence outside of times of crisis as well.

I go on record here in recognizing that Folha has adopted a laudable editorial policy of not merely covering the mass violence but investing in deeper reporting that seeks to give the reader more than just a simple repeating of the facts. But it still isn't enough.

In the Rocinha case, it reacted slowly and modestly to signs of worsening insecurity. The fact that it isn't headquartered in Rio nor has its reader base there alone effectively removes the newspaper from the locale. The decision to close the Rio branch in 2016, and to limit its team to five correspondents covering the second largest city in Brazil has come at a high price in editorial terms.

Since then, as if in a prank of destiny, Rio has been the protagonist of a series of important developments, among them the unfolding of the so-called Car Wash Operation, whose proper investigation by the newspaper has ended up being affected.

Rio today is an information market practically monopolized by the Globo media group. Folha has attracted some Cariocas - as city residents are known - readers who are looking for a greater diversity of viewpoints, but has only offered them limited material.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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