Citizenship and Digital Mobilization in Brazil
By: Alice Baroni
Community-based initiatives in Brazil’s city, Rio de Janeiro, are attempting to influence the ways in which Rio’s citizens and authorities perceive the favelas (poor districts) and their residents. This case study focuses on one of these initiatives being run by a non-governmental organization Viva Rio. Community leaders from different favelas in Rio de Janeiro, dissatisfied with the way the mainstream media had portrayed the favelas and their residents, appealed more than a decade ago to the NGO Viva Rio for support. With the advent of the Internet, the dream of a magazine produced by the people, for the people, and with the people from the favelas across Rio de Janeiro became a reality. In 2001, the Viva Favela portal was founded by 15 favela residents from different low-income suburbs in Rio, plus professional journalists who selected and trained them to become what later became known as community correspondents—or correspondents 2.0, as Viva Favela calls them.
Viva Favela is by far the most prolific and prominent community media organization in terms of journalistic products that they produce, and the influence of the work carried out by proponents of this community-based organization is well established.
This project, therefore, possesses a great amount of cultural capital that is expressed via the achievement of many awards (e.g. Prêmio Ponto de Mídia Livre in 2009; Finalist of the Stockholm Challenge Award in 2008; Finalist of the International Stockholm GKP in 2007; Documentary Photography Distribution Grant by Open Society Institute [George Soros Foundation, NY]; Honorable Mention by Vladimir Herzog Award in 2005; Prêmio Telemar de Inclusão Digital in 2004; Best project of digital inclusion by International Wireless Communication Association in 2001) (Baroni 2013).
In order to give participants the skills to become active media producers, Viva Favela conducts multimedia production workshops at Viva Rio NGO settings. These uniform top-down training programs are divided into seven different modules: one of these includes 18 introductory classes, and the others are divided in six classes each, which are independent and interchangeable. Once the introductory training is accomplished, students are supposed to be able to apply the knowledge they have gained into the reality of their own communities. If the students are interested in becoming specialized in a certain media platform, Viva Favela also offers six advanced modules: text, hypertext and social media, photography, audio, video, and the construction of sites.1
These programs have resulted in the creation of short movies, photographs, podcasts, and written texts by favela residents from across Rio’s low-income suburbs. Some recurring themes include favela culture, fashion, garbage, police intervention in the favela, and social grievances. Nando Dias, who is a photographer for Viva Favela, said, “the concept of Viva Favela is to show that there are positive things inside the favelas in order to break down boundaries and to present that the favelas are not what is shown by the mainstream media.”2
In 2013, Viva Favela launched a novel version of the Training Program for Multimedia Community Correspondents by conducting workshops in the favelas. It mainly focuses on media literacy and human rights education. Within a year, over 170 students aged between 15 and 29 graduated from the program. All of the students were favela residents from approximately 25 different favelas.3
Jucá, who was the coordinator of the project between 2008 and 2012, argued that Viva Favela has had a political impact at two different levels—personal and governmental. In the personal dimension, she stated that the project has encouraged its community correspondents to see themselves in a different manner—as people who are capable of generating information by using communication tools to spread their own world views. This process has allowed them to engage in conversations beyond social, educational, and geographical borders of the favelas. In the governmental dimension, the display of community correspondents’ work in the portal (which became source of information for the mainstream media) results in a bigger impact, since it influences communities, generates job opportunities, and/or leads to governmental actions at the local level. The main aim of Viva Favela is rather the consciousness-raising of favela dwellers that begin looking at themselves and their neighborhoods critically. This process is followed by the realization that they can have a voice by publishing their own stories on the website and other social networks.4
Viva Favela, though presents its own approach of empowerment and a certain independence from the NGO Viva Rio, is still subjected by its institutional framework. In other words, Viva Favela faces challenges to reconcile the interests of favela residents (community correspondents) with those of Viva Rio staff. Hamelink’s (1996) study on disempowerment and self-empowerment indicates that different approaches of empowerment depart from the principle of ‘giving voice to the voiceless.’ However, where these methods result in positive outcomes, in the long term, they end up leading to dependency between who is empowering and who is empowered. In order to break down this process of dependency, the people should own and control the media themselves.
Beyond the realm of Viva Favela, the wave of massive protests that sparked in the largest Brazilian cities in June 2013 shows that Brazilians have started taking advantage of ICTs to digital mobilization. Latin America is the most digitally connected region in the developing world (Muggah and Diniz 2013). Within favelas, there has also been an exponential increase in the availability of affordable, easy-to-use technologies for communication (e.g. free or inexpensive digital cameras, mobile phones with inbuilt cameras), and for editing and sharing content (e.g. the emergence of ‘Lan Houses,’ a form of cybercafe that provides cheap access to computers and the Internet), enabling favela residents to produce media, circulate their stories, and express wider political and social grievances. If Brazilians continue to take advantage of ICTs to digital mobilization in the years to come, and if it is harnessed towards giving voice to marginalized groups, this may equalize influence laying the basis for a path towards citizenship in Brazil.
Baroni, Maria Alice Lima. "In-side-out: Photojournalists from Community and Mainstream Media Organizations in Brazil's Favelas." PhD diss., Queensland University of Technology, 2013. http://eprints.qut.edu.au/64746/.
Hamelink, Cees J. 1996. World Communication: Disempowerment and Self-empowerment. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed Books.
Robert Muggah and Gustavo Diniz. 2013. "Digitally Enhanced Violence Prevention in the Americas." Stability 2 (3) (November): 1-23.
VF (Viva Favela). “Curso Oferecido pelo Viva Favela Completa um Ano.” Unpublished manuscript, 2014. Adobe PDF file.