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Document, mobilise, amplify: The media activists in Rio's favelas

Community-based media collectives are pushing an alternative, re-humanising narrative about Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

· Matérias

The prevailing view of Rio de Janeiro's favelas - one of violence and lawlessness - is a view echoed and often propagated by both mainstream media and politicians, but community-based media collectives are fighting back.

Over recent years, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and Rio's governor Wilson Witzel have called for increasingly lethal police action in the favelas. Witzel has even suggested a shoot-to-kill policy to bring people under control.

Near daily military raids often lead to arbitrary killings - now averaging five people a day. Entire neighbourhoods have become deadly, and inhabitants have turned to media collectives like Papo Reto and Mare Vive to get accurate information about the situation to avoid the most dangerous areas.

Thaina de Medeiros, a member of the Papo Reto Media Collective told The Listening Post's Tariq Nafi that they "speak with residents from all over the complex. People give guidance, as a method of defence. 'Be careful when going to such and such street - the police tank is there.' We then curate the information and decide where to share it."

Because they are inhabitants of the favelas themselves, media collective members get access to crime scenes and gather photos, videos and information later used to obtain justice.

"There was the case of Eduardo de Jesus, a 10-year old boy who was shot by a soldier. The first thing the residents did was call Papo Reto" Thaina de Medeiros recalls. His collective managed to get footage nonetheless, and it "was used by the public defender in Eduardo's case and it made news across the country".

Rio's favelas are more than 100 years old. They are relatively poor urban communities where the state has historically shown little interest in residents' wellbeing. In the 1980s, the drug trade pushed its way into the favelas trapping the population there between brutal warring gangs and police forces with a reputation for violence.

Bolsonaro and Witzel both support more extreme action.

"They use the 'war on drugs' argument in order to run those actions in which they dehumanise those bodies. In fact, what we see is a war against the poor," explains Renata Souza, a Rio State Legislature deputy.

Brazilian mainstream media is failing when it comes to covering this story - putting white journalists in the spotlight when the vast majority of the favelas' residents are of African descent, and often using dehumanising terminology.

The danger for journalists reporting from inside the favelas is real - as highlighted by the brutal murder of Globo's journalist Tim Lopez back in 2002 - but violence plays a disproportionate part in their coverage, leaving aside other, more positive stories.

"That's why Papo Reto and Mare Vive are fundamental,'' says Renata Souza. "Because they have a direct link with everyday lives, they listen to the residents, they give visibility and amplify those voices. To have alternative communication tools like Mare Vive and Papo Reto speaking out against the logic of war and the dehumanisation of black bodies in the favelas is fundamental."


Thaina de Medeiros - Papo Reto Media Collective

Naldinho Lourenco - Mare Vive Media Collective

Vinicius Donola - journalist, former special correspondent, Record TV

Renata Souza - deputy, Rio State Legislature

Source: Al Jazeera News