In Brazil, Rio community journalists face challenges every day to tell favela residents about COVID-19 | Instant News


Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Gizele Martins and Raull Santiago – community journalists from the Rio de Janeiro favelas – worked to bring accurate news and information to the local population and to provide visibility for their struggle. Their organization is in between dozens of media groups founded by residents of the Rio favela and other marginalized areas that aim to oppose stereotypes, reduce stigma, empower citizens, and build diverse narratives about their community.

Brazil’s first COVID-19 case confirmed by the end of February, and since then, more than 101,000 cases have been reported and at least 7,000 people have died, according to data from May 3 Brazilian Ministry of Health. The densely populated favela accounts in Rio de Janeiro number around 22% of the 6.7 million people in the city, according to the latter national census. When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Rio, favela residents began to worry about that the impact of a pandemic in these areas, where many households do not have regular access to water.

As of May 3, there were only 55 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the favelas, according to the special online monitoring panel formed by a community media group Voz das Comunidades, which systematizes information from the city and state governments of Rio and is updated daily. However, the number is believed to be much higher due to lack of testing in favelas and the fact that some cases are counted together with a larger number of environments where they are located.

CPJ spoke with Martins, from Complexo da Maré, and Santiago, from Complexo do Alemão, about their experiences working in the favela during the pandemic, including logistical challenges in getting information about COVID-19 to the public and combating false news and disinformation. –Some of them are scattered by country’s highest authority. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Gizele Martins, community journalist, Maré 0800 group, Maré Complex of favelas

Gizele Martins, 34, is a community journalist from the Maré favelas Complex, where he was born and raised. He has been a community journalist for almost 20 years, starting working as a teenager in the O Cidadão community media outlet. In 2014, he founded Maré Vive, a community media group that aims to report Maré’s occupation by the army as part of the city’s preparations for the upcoming World Cup. In 2011, Martins received his journalism degree from PUC-Rio University.

What activities were implemented by community media groups in Maré during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Around mid-March like community media groups Maré Vive, Maré 0800, O Cidadão, and others gather Frente de Mobilização da Maré (Front of the Mobilization of Maré). We all work together, and this is something historic. It’s great to see all the community media working together, even though it’s too bad in the sad times of a coronavirus outbreak. Now, on Front, we have members of community media groups, members of artistic groups, and around 50 residents.

We made a communication plan six weeks ago to target an audience that is actually ourselves, residents of the favela. We know, in favela, not everyone has internet access, not everyone has electricity, not everyone can read, nor do they have access to health system applications for coronavirus.

So, we have rented a sound car to circulate with audio messages, with guidance from health professionals from Maré, explaining what a coronavirus is, what are the symptoms, where the hospital is caring for, and highlighting the relevance of respecting social distance. We also hang banners and posters and think of other tools such as street art, graffiti, videos, and photo cards to be distributed and used in the media. We also include information about domestic violence in our material.

In addition to communication, we also register vulnerable families so that they can receive donations of basic necessities and cleanliness that we collect.

What is the importance of community media in general and, in particular, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?

The work is difficult and challenging. Maré is very large, so we cannot put banners on all roads, car noises can not circulate on all roads. We need to think of a better way to reach the highest number of people at any time, or 140,000 people will not be reached. Despite this hard work, there are results. If it were not for community media, for the popular movement, for community journalists, we would not achieve the results of so many people staying at home. And we will continue this campaign because we have seen how necessary it is. It speaks the language of the locals, and it is in the community.

Community media dialogue directly with the audience and [these outlets] important because they show local realities from the inside but also claim people’s rights. And that’s what happened Maré Vive, O Cidadão, Maré 0800, has been doing for years at Maré. We write about favela protagonism, their culture, population profile. We condemn police brutality and state violence. But we also claim people’s rights, their rights to live, and their right to communicate.

How does this pandemic affect your work and the work of community media in Maré?

This is hard work because everything needs to be done via the internet: all meetings, decisions, registering families. All organization and mobilization need to be done from within our own homes. It takes more time to do things like this because we cannot be on the path of taking action. Many things in favelas are done directly, and paid in cash, not by bank card. And now we can’t just come out to solve all this. That has to be done online, by email, through the messaging app … In the first days I felt the difference of being a community journalist who had to work locked at home, unable to be on the streets.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Some challenges are related to internet access and access to other services. In my home, for example, I can’t use my cellphone to make someone’s calls or text because the cell line doesn’t work here. Some group members don’t have computers at home, others don’t have money to put credit on their cellphones. This is the reality of many members of community media groups – unstable internet access, non-functioning devices.

There is a challenge not being able to go out on the street talking to people. We have a group of people, who are not in the “risk group”, who come out one day to hang banners and then return home. But we don’t distribute flyers, we can’t stop talking to people, chatting, and clarifying the “face-to-face” doubts they might have. And this is perhaps the biggest obstacle at the moment. We cannot be on the streets, and community communication is made from being on the streets. This is a challenge we felt in the first days.

We have to go out wearing masks and we have asked for donations of other protective equipment, alcohol, water and soap, to protect it.

There is also the risk of being connected 24 hours, on the internet, in messaging applications, on TV, hearing everything about coronavirus, rethinking our campaigns, and answering messages at any time. I myself have not been able to disconnect.

How do you and the community media in Maré deal with the circulation of false news about COVID-19?

Besides all the challenges, we have false news and irresponsible political authority statements. In the first two weeks we managed to get more people to stay at home in Maré. But at that time there was a statement by the president [Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro] say that people can return to their normal lives, then we see an increase in the number of people circulating on the streets.

So, in addition to all the information we produce and the communication we make about COVID-19 and its consequences, we must also keep abreast of false news and irresponsible statements from the authorities to, at all times, produce “counter information.”

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Raull Santiago, community journalist, Coletivo Papo Reto group, Alemão favelas Complex

Raull Santiago, 31, is a community journalist from the Alemão Complex of favelas, where he was born and raised. He is one of the founders of Coletivo Papo Reto, an independent community communication group that works on human rights, culture, education, justice and memory in Alemão. Papo Reto is the result of mobilization that began in late 2013 and early 2014 after heavy rains caused houses to collapse in Alemão, leaving many people homeless.

Brazilian community journalist Raull Martins (Coletive Papo Reto)

What activities were implemented by community media groups in Alemão during the COVID-19 pandemic?

With the global pandemic COVID-19, Papo Reto put together with community news outlets Voz das Comunidades (Community Voice) and group Mulheres em Ação (Women in Action) and formed the “Crisis Cabinet” in Alemão. The Crisis Cabinet has two objectives. First, to build strong and detailed communication that dialogue with reality favelas and that explain to citizens the importance of coronavirus. Others, targeting audiences outside the favela, ask for donations of food, water, cleaning and cleaning supplies. People already need basic goods to avoid spreading the virus in the favela and we are now distributing it to residents.

We realize that we need a communication strategy that can dialogue with the local reality of favela, understanding that not everyone has TV or access to the internet. Our communication needs to talk to each of us in a different reality. Old people, young people, children, motorists, illiterate people, and all other different groups in the favela room.

Our first action is to have a sound car circulating in the favela with important recommendations on how to avoid corona virus infection and proliferation and basic care measures recommended by WHO. [World Health Organization]. We wrote the same message and recommendations on a banner which we then hung at the main access to Alemão. We also hang posters in strategic places in the favela, such as small markets and bus stops.

We ensure that some published messages highlight local inequalities, such as lack of access to water in many households. We urge citizens who have access to water to share their water with those who do not, as an act of solidarity and as a collective effort to prevent coronavirus infection.

One of the main recommendations of WHO is for people to wash their hands often. But, unfortunately, in unequal communities, water supply is inadequate in the favelas. There is less water than access to water. Therefore, we need a strategy to ensure community access to water.

All our efforts now focus on the favela in Alemão because it is a very large area. But we can also support groups in other fields. We have supported the association of citizens in the neighboring favela group, Complexo da Penha, with their organization. And we have also made donations to hospitals in the Acari favela and basic health units in Alemão.

What is the importance of community media in general and, in particular, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Community media in favela is important to refute narratives about favela. For years there has been a voice from outside that creates an image of the favela in society. The press covering the favela did it from the outside. Many of them work in the media and tell the reality of the favelas not from the favelas and marginalized areas. A community media group from within the favela is here to build a different narrative that not only approaches violence, but also all the forces within the favela. We live in a reality where our basic rights are denied to us, but, nevertheless, we succeed in building so many strong things.

During this coronavirus pandemic, it is important for us, who live and work here, to communicate with the favela and outside the favela because it will penetrate more and have wider reach and more impact.

How does this pandemic affect your work and the work of community media in Alemão?

The COVID-19 pandemic changed my routine completely. My regular work activities in the city center are canceled. And Papo Reto activities are postponed for now so that we can focus efforts to respond to the crisis.

This new activity resulted in extreme fatigue, physical and psychological stress, alienating the family. Everything I did before the crisis stopped or decreased dramatically. But, on the other hand, the new frontline was consuming, demanding a lot of presence and caution. We closely monitor the protection equipment of our group members, we have strict hygiene procedures to avoid infection and infect our families while we do our work.

I am affected by how much my circulation decreases. As an activist, community journalist, I circulate a lot and travel a lot. Now, I haven’t left Alemão and its surroundings for a long time.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?

The biggest challenge we face in the “Crisis Cabinet” is to convince people to make social distance a reality in their lives. There are still many people on the streets, large currents of people and places of agglomeration. Reducing, but very slowly. This is serious and difficult, especially because local and national leaders make criminal speeches that contradict WHO’s recommendations. President Jair Bolsonaro himself treated this pandemic, which has claimed many lives around the world, as a small thing, mocking him. He encouraged people not to practice social distance and spread false news, which for many people was true because it was a person with a presidential status saying things that didn’t make sense.

The biggest challenge is handling fake news and devising daily strategies to make people understand the seriousness of what is happening in this country.

How do you and the community media in Alemão deal with the circulation of false news about COVID-19?

Some of us are monitoring the WhatsApp group and what we hear during our activities to immediately respond to false news that is spreading and building rivalries.

Medical staff and community health workers support us in our public communication. And we work with them to monitor cases, meet them every week to monitor cases, to find out what’s getting worse, what’s the basic data about what’s happening in the favela. And that has become an important step for us – to identify what works and what needs to be changed in our strategy to communicate every day to avoid spreading the virus here.

CPJ security advisors for journalists covering coronavirus outbreaks are available at English, Portuguese, and more than 35 other languages. Additional CPJ coverage from coronavirus can be found here.



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