To what extent are the Brazilian media independent? And how safe are journalists there? DW Akademie and the public broadcaster ARD invited media experts to a discussion round in Berlin.
From left: Helena Ferro de Gouveia, DW Akademie project manager; Julia Jaroschewski, freelance journalist and blogger; Luciana Rangel, TV journalist; Johannes Metzler, discussion host
Although countless reporters are heading to Brazil to cover the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer championship, Brazilian journalist Luciana Rangel, who is based in Berlin, has declined an offer to go. "I am not a war correspondent," said the TV journalist to a packed audience attending the Media International panel discussion. Rangel said that over the past several years she has felt increasingly unsafe in Brazil.
"I've already been robbed twice and when I've been on the road with a camera team, I've had to take bodyguards along." That's why Rangel, a correspondent for the news program Veja, turned down an offer to cover the event from Brazil. Freelance journalist and blogger Julia Jaroschewski agreed that journalists face security challenges there. "Still, it's only dangerous if you're in places you're not familiar with."
She has often reported from Brazil and has stayed in one of the feared slums, known as "favelas". "Unlike many of my Brazilian colleagues, I don't wear protective gear." She sees it as more of a provocation than protection if journalists show that they are wearing this type of clothing. "For me, it's important to gain people's trust. That doesn't happen if I start distancing myself from them."
Protests against the media
"Public perception of the media has changed dramatically since the 2013 demonstrations. That was the first time people turned against journalists," said Helena Ferro de Gouveia, DW Akademie project manager for the Latin American division. She sees the media itself as being responsible for the change, saying it did not give balanced coverage of the protests. "The Brazilian media is often prejudiced and basically doesn't know what it's talking about. That's why people have been turning against the large media corporations."
She said that there is hardly any independent news coverage at all. "The media sector is dominated by ten big, family-run companies that have their own agenda. There are also major advertising clients who pay for reports to be given a positive spin."
Correspondent Luciana Rangel has also encountered refusals to broadcast critical reports. "The only reports that are broadcast are those that are in line with the media organizations' views or that reflect political interests."
New diversity of opinion
Julia Jaroschewski pointed to the role social media are now playing. She said in the favelas, she saw independent reporters using blogs, Facebook and Twitter to offer alternatives to mass media coverage. "Brazil's media sector is finally opening up, thanks to social media. On the Web you'll find alternate views and voices that until recently were being ignored by the established press." But these emerging voices, she added, are urgently in need of broader external support.
That's why DW Akademie is supporting local media in the northern and north-eastern parts of the country. "We're training journalists in investigative reporting and how to report on issues that are rarely covered by the established media," said Helena Ferro de Gouveia.
Despite the current tough media challenges, local journalists are finding enthusiastic support among the general population. And two reports produced during a DW Akademie workshop were recently awarded one of Brazil's most prestigious journalism prizes.