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June 25, 2013

Brazil and Turkey: If it Bleeds, it Leads

Through the lens of the Western press and much of the visual product coming off the newswire, the media consumer could be excused the past week or so for confusing the protests in Turkey with those in Brazil. The maxim: “if it bleeds, it leads” has probably never been more apt. (This Telegraph slideshow is a case in point.)

That’s why I was interested in this message on Facebook several days ago posted by Alex Forman, a fine art photographer living in Rio. She writes:

“The concern shown by my friends abroad, though loving and heartfelt, tells me that what is being shown in the media is disporportionate to the reality here. So, my feeling is that the media is showing the minority images, of vandalism and police reactivism…and not the full story.

Yes. There has been some looting, some violence, some police brutality, and two dismal accidents that led to deaths, but there has been much much much more peaceful protesting. The signs are creative, and the people are coming out in droves, mostly youth, mostly students, but they are gradually being joined by other classes, other professionals. This is because the protests are working! And over the past two days, the demands have become quite clear in their insistance on better social services.

Dilma’s response, though pre-recorded, though initially also focussed on the vandals, was also direct: she will listen to the voice on the streets, the bus fairs have already been returned to their pre- 20 cents increase, she will meet with the leaders, she will dedicate 100% of oil royalties to education in Brazil, she will dedicate this government to transparency to fight corruption, to better healthcare, transportation. Brazil needs to keep to the streets to enforce this, participate in government, make these necessary changes happen. But the media needs to be fair too.

I felt anxiety grip Rio’s streets yesterday, and not because of what we are witnessing in violence but because of the few edited images that are being repeated on GloboReporter and elsewhere. Fair reporting means showing things once and putting them in their appropriate corners. If one repeats the same images over and over and does not show the other, peaceful, majority actions we’ll have panic on our hands and “they” will have won. The cost of living in inflationary Brazil is like a sci-fi movie script, with horrible monsters lurking. This is the awful repeated image. Change is needed. I don’t see this as an immature Brazil, I see it as a very mature Brazil – a very short time after dictatorship – making democratic change by demanding it. Isn’t it important to show that abroad too and stop this media craving for violence, stop this focus on the minority vandals? Who are they anyway? Doesn’t that miss the point?

I don’t profess to be an expert in South American politics but I did get some pleasure out of the photo yesterday of President Rousseff sitting down with members of the Free Fare movement. Who knows what will happen but the President is proposing to rollback transit prices, invest in transit system upgrades and is proposing a much broader set of social and economic reforms.

Now, I’m not sure how much of a comparison to draw between yesterday’s image and the one just above, but this shot makes you look again at the figures juxtaposed at that table. The black-and-white photo features a much younger Rousseff  in her days as a Marxist aligned against Brazil’s military dictatorship. For her day in court in 1970, she earned several years in prison.  What I can say is that, in spite of the violent spasms on the streets, it would be shortsighted to simply lump Rousseff and Erdogan, Brazil and Turkey into the same tear gas canister.

And just to be fair, since the outpouring of citizens onto the streets wasn’t all doom-and-gloom, and that variance was part of the photo coverage too, I thought this image was representative of the difference, this protester doing an intervention on a not-entirely-unsympathetic Salvador riot cop.

photo 1: Eraldo Peres/Associated Press. caption: President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, right, on Monday met with representatives of the Free Fare Movement, the group that ignited the protests. photo 2: Alex Almeida/Reuters. caption: At least one protester was killed in Sao Paulo state after a car rammed into a crowd of demonstrators, the driver apparently angered about being unable to drive along a street. Above, an injured man hurt during the riots in Sao Paulo. photo 3: Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images caption: Dilma Rousseff befor a military court, 1970. photo 4: Valter Pontes. caption: A demonstrator embraces a police commander in a gesture of peace during a protest in Salvador, June 22, 2013. Demonstrators in Brazil gathered this week to continue the growing protest that is tapping into widespread anger at poor public services, mainly health, education and transport.)

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