Favelas and the Media in Rio de Janeiro

Favelas are the low-income areas of Brazil and are home to 50 million people (Alonso, Marcelo, “Fighting Their Way out of Brazil’s Slums – ESPN”, Espn.go.com). They are notorious for their high crime rate, gang violence, and drug traffickers. The majority of favelas are in Brazil’s largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. However there has been recent media and government attention to the favelas in Rio due to 2014 World Cup and 2016 summer Olympics that the city will be hosting (“UN-HABITAT Supporting Favela Peace and Integration Programme”, unhabitat.org.). About twenty percent of Rio’s eight million people live in the favelas (“UN-HABITAT Supporting Favela Peace and Integration Programme”, unhabitat.org). In order to promote tourism and clean up the city’s reputation, the Brazilian government’s military elite force, known as BOPE, is combating drug traffickers in the favelas themselves (Roller, Zoë. “BOPE Occupies Complexo Da Mare Favela.” Riotimesonline.com.). Through the Police Pacification Units (UPP), the primary goal of BOPE is to stop drug trafficking and to seize illegal arms (Roller, Zoë. “BOPE Occupies Complexo Da Mare Favela.” Riotimesonline.com.). Their goal is to eliminate crime in forty favelas by 2014 (Yapp, Robin. “Police Seize Biggest Rio Slum as World Cup Clean-up Begins.” Telegraph.co.uk.).  Although superficially the UPP program seems god-send to those who dwell in the favelas, in reality, Brazil’s mainstream media tends to gloss over the ugly aspects of the police operations.

It’s no secret that the operations that BOPE carries out lead to civilian deaths in the favelas. Often times, the police are met in opposition by drug traffickers as they wrestle control away from the crime lords. The ensuing shootouts often kill people on both sides, including innocent bystanders. Amnesty International reported that, “In 2007, well over 1000 people died in confrontations with the police” (Deffner, Veronika. “Prejudice: Second Class Citizens.” Inwent.org.). In 2009, thirty people were killed in the favelas due to the police raids on drug traffickers (“Brazilian Military Police Raid Rio De Janeiro’s Favelas.” Guardian.co.uk.).  Police involvement in the favelas had not deterred crime; in that same year, there were 2155 homicides in Rio (Hubner, Elton. “Media: Marginalised Voices.” Inwent.org.). Along with the shootouts, there have been reports of police brutality against people who live in the favelas. Along with the BOPE, there are the paramilitary militias created by the state security forces to incite fear and violence in the favelas (Deffner, Veronika. “Prejudice: Second Class Citizens.” Inwent.org.). The problem is that the mainstream media in Brazil only focuses on the positive aspects of UPP and BOPE operations in Rio de Janeiro. They often gloss over the death count and almost never address abuse from the police. Independent news sources such as Viva Favela, a nongovernmental organization, have reporters who actually live in the favelas to cover news on what is happening (Noguiera, Rodrigo, and Susannah Vila. “Viva Favela.” Movements.org.).

However favelas reporters that cover the police raids are subjected to censorship by the BOPE forces. For example, on October 2nd of 2011, Patrick Granja, a favela reporter, videotaped a beating of a person by eight police officers (“Favela Reporters Censored by Army, Wave of Attacks on Regional Journalists.” En.rsf.org.) Two newspapers posted the video on their websites and when sent reporters to the same favela where the beatings occurred, they were told by the police that they needed an army permit to film and refused to allow them to video tape anything (“Favela Reporters Censored by Army, Wave of Attacks on Regional Journalists.” En.rsf.org.) . Reporters and bloggers that cover local issues, including those who live in the favelas, are also the targets of political assassinations or aren’t given adequate protection from authorities.

In March 2011, blogger Ricardo Gama was shot three times by unknown assailants  in Rio (“Shooting Attack on Outspoken Rio Blogger, Reprisal Suspected.” En.rsf.org.).  An outspoken reporter, Gama covered political corruption, including political officials that might have been involved in drug trafficking in the favelas (“Shooting Attack on Outspoken Rio Blogger, Reprisal Suspected.” En.rsf.org.). Although Gama survived his attack, other reporters in Brazil haven’t been so lucky.

In November 2011, Gelson Domingos da Silva, a cameraman for a local T.V station in Rio was killed covering a firefight between drug traffickers and authorities in the Antares favela (“Fatal Shooting of Cameraman in Brazil Raises Questions About Journalists’ Safety.”En.rsf.org.). Although he was wearing a bulletproof vest, the bullet was able to pierce his chest (“Fatal Shooting of Cameraman in Brazil Raises Questions About Journalists’ Safety.”En.rsf.org.). It’s unknown whether the bullet came from a drug trafficker or a police officer (“Fatal Shooting of Cameraman in Brazil Raises Questions About Journalists’ Safety.”En.rsf.org.).

The death of four of other Brazilian reporters in 2011, Vanderlei “Wanderley” Canuto Leandro, Ednaldo Figueira, Luciano Leitão Pedrosa, and Valério Nascimento highlight the danger to reporters who dare to cover political corruption (“Fatal Shooting of Cameraman in Brazil Raises Questions About Journalists’ Safety.”En.rsf.org.). In each of these cases, the killer or killers have not been caught. The police are reluctant to investigate these cases points to a disturbing conclusion: that either the police or other government officials are responsible for the deaths.

In conclusion, the mainstream media in Brazil only focuses on the positive aspects of the BOPE and UPP operations in the favelas. They report the victories of the police, but never about the police brutality that happens in the favelas. Independent and local reporters are subjected to censorship or worse, death. My hope is that Brazil will pass laws to protect reporters from civil rights violations and that they may find a less violent way to prevent crime in the favelas.                                                    

Bibliography

  1. Alonso, Marcelo. “Fighting Their Way out of Brazil’s Slums – ESPN.”go.com.ESPN, 15 May 2009. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://sports.espn.go.com/extra/mma/news/story?id=4166724&gt;.
  2. “UN-HABITAT Supporting Favela Peace And Integration Programme.”org. UN-HABITAT, 17 May 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.unhabitat.org/content.asp?cid=9902&catid=7&typeid=6&gt;.
  3. Roller, Zoë. “BOPE Occupies Complexo Da Mare Favela.”com. The Rio Times, 25 Oct. 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/rio-politics/bope-occupies-complexo-da-mare-favela/&gt;.
  4. Yapp, Robin. “Police Seize Biggest Rio Slum as World Cup Clean-up Begins.”co.uk. Telegraph Media Group Limited, 13 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/brazil/8887389/Police-seize-biggest-Rio-slum-as-World-Cup-clean-up-begins.html&gt;.
  5. Deffner, Veronika. “Prejudice: Second Class Citizens.”org. D+C, 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.inwent.org/ez/articles/193753/index.en.shtml&gt;.
  6. Hubner, Elton. “Media: Marginalised Voices.”org. D+C, 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.inwent.org/ez/articles/197937/index.en.shtml&gt;.
  7. “Brazilian Military Police Raid Rio De Janeiro’s Favelas.”co.uk. Guardian News and Media Limited, 25 Nov. 2010. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/26/brazil-police-rio-de-janeiro&gt;.
  8. Noguiera, Rodrigo, and Susannah Vila. “Viva Favela.”org. Movements.org. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.movements.org/case-study/entry/viva-favela/&gt;.
  9. “Shooting Attack on Outspoken Rio Blogger,Reprisal Suspected.”rsf.org. Reporters Without Borders, 24 Mar. 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://en.rsf.org/brazil-shooting-attack-on-outspoken-rio-24-03-2011,39865.html&gt;.
  10. “Fatal Shooting of Cameraman in Brazil Raises Questions About Journalists’ Safety.”rsf.org. Reporters Without Borders, 7 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://en.rsf.org/brazil-fatal-shooting-of-cameraman-in-07-11-2011,41352.html&gt;.
  11. “Favela Reporters Censored by Army, Wave of Attacks on Regional Journalists.”rsf.org. Reporters Without Borders, 19 Oct. 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://en.rsf.org/brazil-favela-reporters-censored-by-army-19-10-2011,41238.html&gt;.
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