An event to include independent community media in the conversation around the 2016 Olympic Games took place on March 19 in the 2016 Organizing Committee building in Cidade Nova. The event was the result of an initiative developed by four community journalists and promoted by the Committee, promising “to debate the Olympic Games and what favelas and the periphery have to do with them.”
Over the first hour, the Committee presented their summary of positive impacts the Olympics will have on the city in terms of sustainability, education and legacy to a crowd consisting of community journalists from across Rio. Members talked about creating approximately 85,000 temporary jobs and implementing the educational sports program Transforma in public and private schools across the state of Rio. They also discussed their efforts to buy 15,000 pillows from local community confectioners and “not from China, which would be much cheaper,” according to one Committee Member.
After the presentation the floor was opened to questions from the audience, which lasted another hour. Community journalists expressed concerns with the media’s exclusivity around the Games, the monopoly of the mainstream media’s coverage and discrimination of independent community media during the World Cup. In response, executive communications director Mario Andrada revealed there will be an “area for the non-credentialed press in addition to the mainstream media area,” where Olympic athletes will be taken for interviews and there will be resources for community journalists who wish to cover the events.
Some community journalists asked about sponsored article deals the Committee usually makes with the mainstream press and if this would also be available for community media. Members of the Committee said no such funding would be available for independent media.
Concerns were raised about the opening ceremony. Several members of the audience put forward that people from the favelas would like to be part of the culture showcased in the ceremony. “The cultural class is bothered by the exclusion from these mega-events,” one audience member said. “So, the cultural class wants to be part of the Olympics. You can’t have the Olympics in Rio and hire Carlinhos Brown and Ivete Sangalo to represent Rio’s culture again.”
The Committee representatives expressed that this was the first of several gatherings with community journalists where “inclusionary” policies and projects will be discussed so that independent media readers can be informed of the opportunities the Olympic Games are bringing to the city.
Many of the questions asked—about pollution in the Guanabara Bay and the fate of the Indigenous Museum next to Maracanã, for example—went unanswered. In many instances, representatives clarified that while the Committee can pressure the government to create policies that will benefit the population, they have little practical power to promise anything. They did confirm they were working to clean Guanabara Bay, yet less than a week later on Tuesday March 24, Reuters reported that the bay will not be cleaned up in its entirety as previously promised by the Committee; the only parts that will receive treatment are the areas that will be used for the Games.
André Fernandes from Agência de Notícias das Favelas asked that the Committee use its influence to address the problem of security in the state of Rio: “I would like to ask the Organizing Committee to establish a dialogue in a more emphatic way because we cannot bring mega-events to Rio de Janeiro while those who live in the favela are still suffering. For example, 20 minutes ago a woman was shot in Complexo do Alemão and this happens every day. The Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) is there yet this happens every day, everywhere. Complexo da Maré is being occupied by the army and no one wants the army at their door in such a violent way. We have noticed, in the last few years, that this has been happening because of the mega-events, the UPP occupation and everything else. So I think the Committee—just like it can pressure [the government] on the pollution of the Guanabara Bay—can pressure [the government] so that this stops happening, right? A large part of the population of Rio is being affected by this and we can’t be silent. We can’t say ‘Oh, it’s all fine, come over!’ No, our population is dying, being shot at, they can’t leave their homes, they are suffering. So I would like to make a special request that we talk about this issue of security and that the Organizing Committee be our partner in pressuring the State to change the situation in which we are living.”
One community journalist from Complexo da Maré asked why the Committee had not previously reached out to communities, to which Andrada said the members had been busy with other aspects of organizing the Games and that “the worst dialogue is the one that doesn’t happen.” When the subjects of Vila Autódromo, evictions and the housing deficit came up, the Committee had no answers and cited time constraints.
Collaboration between Committee and communities
In February, the Organizing Committee approached leaders in favelas and low-income communities to start a dialogue about how the Games can include the marginalized portion of the Brazilian population.
Helcimar Lopes (from Complexo do Alemão), Pablo Ramoz (from Santa Cruz), Rosilene Milioti and Piê Garcia (both from Complexo da Maré) were invited to come up with a proposal for collaboration between the Committee and communities.
“[In this proposal] we emphasized the importance of dialogue within these territories,” said Piê Garcia. “Since February we have been getting to know all the sectors within the Committee and understanding how the project works and how we can make use of all the opportunities the Games will bring to the city. This is an event that will involve the whole city and we have to make use of it. We believe that dialogue between [community media] vehicles can be the first step to amplifying this dialogue.”
During the event, the Committee presented their projections for job opportunities, educational programs and business prospects that may benefit favelas. Garcia expressed that it is extremely important to know all of the ways in which the population can benefit from the Games.
“Criticizing is important,” said Garcia. “And we need to know that everything will be donated after the Games. And we need to be informed about job creation and that all your kid’s school has to do is sign up to be part of Transforma. And we need to be on top of them. The Games are a source of pressure for several issues in the city.”
According to Garcia, the four communicators who organized the event got in touch with 60 publications across the city. Around 30 of these attended the event but they “hope to amplify this network” in the future.
The Committee spokespeople promised to have another gathering in a month but there was frustration around the many questions that went unanswered during the event, specifically about housing, the clean-up of Guanabara Bay and culture.
Scepticism and feedback
Throughout the event, many questions were dodged or went unanswered because of time constraints or because the people in charge of those issues were not present. Many community journalists left the event feeling sceptical about the real intentions of the committee, with suspicions that it was all a PR move.
One journalist, who preferred not to be named, said: “To me, the attempt of approximation by the Organizing Committee was met with disbelief. We will only be certain about their intentions with time. At first glance, what they want is to sell tickets at popular prices and to do some marketing by saying they are open to dialogue and that they talk to all types of audiences.”
Other community journalists were intrigued by the event but said more needs to be done in future.
Raull Santiago from Complexo do Alemão saw the event as a means to inform the audience of what had already been done, and not necessarily engage audience members. He explained: “Other meetings need to happen so that we can go deeper. So far we have been informed of what they have done and we want to add to what is to come. I believe having us there was about bringing us closer to the construction [of the event] which is already happening and now they are trying to fit us in.”