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Community Journalist Gizele Martins Discusses Her Profession [INTERVIEW]

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For the original article in Portuguese by Fernanda Távora published by data_labe click here.

This interview is part of the first episode of the data_labe podcast, #datalábia. In the episode, we discuss the importance of community reporting for the construction of new narratives in/for the favela and periphery, based on the Community Communication Map. To help us in this conversation and to discuss this issue, we spoke with journalist Gizele Martins, a communicator from Rio de Janeiro’s Complexo da Maré favelas for the O Cidadão community newspaper and Revista Vírus.

data_labe: What stories are on the agenda for you? What becomes news in the favela?

Gizele: What storylines should be covered in the favela? For me it’s the defense of being from the favela, and it’s race, which is imposed on the favela because then we can talk about what a favela is, right? For me the story should be about our lives as they are, without [the extremes of] criminalization or romanticizing our reality.

A talking point in the favela is the issue of housing, which is our biggest unsolved problem. The right to housing which was never given to this poor, black, northeastern, indigenous population… Never… from our lands, from our spaces. Another talking point for me is the question of public security, which, principally, in recent years has tortured us a lot, with the invasion of the Pacifying Police Units (UPPs). It’s obvious that the police were always present and persecuting the favela, but in the last 10 years this has worsened considerably.

These for me are the stories that need to be told in the favela. The favela struggle. Culture, education, the denial of the right to life, the lack of any rights. And the appreciation of these, resilient people who build and rebuild their life from day to day without any kind of rights.

data_labe: How does the community newspaper come up with its story ideas? Does the public get involved?

Gizele: Yes. As a community reporter—and I’ve been doing this for 15 years—I spent a lot of time walking around the streets, for example, of the Maré favela, which is the favela where I live. And there was always a lot of collaboration in building the articles, in the ideas, in the political vision of each article, in the suggestion for who does the interviewing, for who is interviewed… There was always a lot of participation from residents, not only speaking about the story ideas, the articles, the topics, giving interviews. But also in sending letters back then, calling us, even going to our community newsroom—which I was a part of—or going to my house… Even today, I walk around and people suggest topics and it has always been collaborative, yes. Community reporting is collaborative, it’s doing something “with” and not “for” readers. This is the major difference in this kind of community reporting in the favela.

data_labe: What does community reporting bring and add that’s different from traditional media? How is your relationship with these more hegemonic media?

Gizele: What differentiates community media is that we start by listening. Trying to dismantle our stereotypes, our prejudices and listen. Because historically we were taught to see the favela population as an enemy and community reporting has to have the role of seeing the favela as it is, with all of its problems, and with all of its solutions. And what differentiates community reporting from commercial media is that when commercial media talk about the favela, either it’s always on the crime page or it’s always “a favela resident got ahead in life.” Either it’s romanticized or criminalized. And in our community reporting, we can’t do that. We can’t reproduce this idea belonging to a racist society, which sees us as a problem for the city and a problem for society. Being that we are the biggest solution.

So community reporting has to have another view. It’s looking inside from within. It’s not looking in from outside. It’s not looking out from inside. It’s looking inside from within, first. In the first place.

data_labe: Do you believe that community reporting is a form of activism? What’s the political importance of these activities for today’s Brazil?

Gizele: Community reporting, I see it as social mobilization. And when I say mobilization it’s not in the sense of protesting, it’s also mobilization in the sense of changing ideas. Because community communications has to play this role of changing ideas. Because we have a whole system that makes us deny ourselves, that makes us support the black man on the post, that makes us support the police killing, so that we support countless things that happen to us in the favela, as favela residents ourselves. Community communications has to play the role of mobilizing this thought and making us question every day: what kind of society is this? And to place us as the protagonists because we build and rebuild ourselves in the absence of rights… Community reporting in Brazil has to play this role. I’ve been going around to indigenous villages, schools, universities, favelas and peripheral areas all over the country visiting with media outlets and I observe that we are all always bringing communication with the main idea of self-affirmation. Because in Brazil, we, the poor population, still don’t have the right to defend our identity as an existing group. The black population, for example, doesn’t have a place in Brazilian society. We are talking about one of the most racist countries in the world and one that applauds the genocide of the black population. There are 30,000 young people that are murdered each year and a whole society applauds this. Our community reporting, from what I see, has been reporting this, and always has to report this. This is essential.

And also we need to see community reporting as something professional. Because we are stigmatized. I’m a journalist that graduated from the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC-Rio), but I’m always going to be seen as the one that isn’t qualified. I love community reporting and I am learning to assert that I’m also a journalist. And society, the left and the right, it also needs to see me as a journalist and to respect this community and popular journalism that we do in the favelas and stop seeing us as anything less. We aren’t just anyone, we are doing serious journalism, serious communication that’s about self-esteem, about defense. Communication that is local reaffirmation and affirmation, and this is very important. It’s the communication that should be most valued in our country.

data_labe: And you, as a journalist, how do you see the future of community reporting in this sense of, as you said as a community reporter, having to tell yourself all the time, “I am a journalist, I also have a degree, I also do journalism.” How do you see this situation in the market?

Gizele: In the market, I think we don’t have much of a way in, because they are prejudiced, they are still very racist. The market is controlled by the middle class, by the rich speaking about communication, speaking about the favela but never experiencing it and when they do experience it, it’s another story. We [community journalists] are going to have another narrative, another defense, another way of putting things that others don’t accept due to pure racism, pure prejudice. So, I think that what we do today will start to be accepted 100 years from now. 100 years from now they will start to accept us in the job market, in journalism. They will start to respect us. But what we’ve done today is no small thing. It’s a huge deal compared to some time ago when we couldn’t write or speak. We still can’t, right? We’re in the country that kills and censors the most journalists and reporters in the world, after Mexico. So we have strong censorship. Freedom of expression isn’t respected in our country, but I think that we’re already doing a lot. We exist and we’re going against it all and we always speak out, independently of what comes as a result. And this is extremely important, because we are leaving a result for years from now, for our own people.

data_labe: Would you like to add anything else?

Gizele: Yes, to say that community reporting is growing in Brazil, in Latin America, and in the poor African countries, and it’s not for no reason. It’s because the commercial media doesn’t show us as we really are, it doesn’t defend us, it doesn’t talk about human rights. It’s not for no reason that community and popular reporting is growing in poor countries. It’s been growing because this poor population has this need to speak and to speak out. And to point out that it is this reporting, [exemplified by] the closed down community radio, this is the reporting they censor, it is our reporting that they don’t let us do. And it’s not by chance, it’s an ideological fight, it’s a racial fight, it’s a gender fight, it’s a fight with capitalism. Which wants to bring us down, which wants us to continue being machines and not to become people, thinking people. And this is our challenge in community reporting. We have to reassert ourselves every day, but it’s worth it and that’s what reporting is all about. Communication is a right and community communication is our duty. We need to speak out all the time, without censoring ourselves, but if we feel we’re at risk, we need to seek out support, support from human rights organizations, support from other reporters. I hope that we never stop speaking up. We might change strategy, but will never stop speaking. It’s our duty, to not stop speaking up.