The media in Brazil has an awful lot to cover right now: glaring corruption, an historic economic recession and serious environmental threats, among others. At the same time, shrinking newsroom budgets are limiting the press' ability to cover many important issues and the upcoming Olympics could further spread resources thin.
Brazil has by far the largest media market in South America, but power and resources are largely focused in a few small conglomerates, such as Grupo Globo, which controls Brazil’s principal television, cable, and satellite networks, as well as several radio stations and print outlets. In recent months, journalists have tackled stories such as lawmakers voting to remove President Dilma Rousseff from office and Brazil's sinking GDP. Reporters in Brazil also face a very real threat of intimidation when powerful economic interests are at stake — as many as five journalists were killed in the country in 2015 alone.
Kátia Brasil is the founder and executive editor of Amazônia Real, a weekly digital news magazine that covers the largely rural Amazônia region in the north, an area of Brazil that rarely receives substantial media attention. Brasil has been in the region for over 20 years, focusing on human rights and environmental issues.
Ahead of the Rio Olympics, Brasil spoke to International Business Times about some of the challenges facing the media in her country. Read the full conversation below:
International Business Times: Amazônia Real covers a lot of issues outside of the mainstream in Brazil — deforestation, human rights for the indigenous populations in the northern Amazônia region, local environmental battles. Did your outlet emerge as a passion project or as a response to a lack of adequate coverage in Brazil’s mainstream media?
Kátia Brasil: It’s a tough question. The Amazon has two realities. It’s a passion and it’s a necessity. We always observed the work we did here in the traditional media, but we noticed that there was not a lot of coverage of the issues involving Amazônia. The main headlines here in Brazil are usually related to the death of an environmental leader or corruption, but the follow-up coverage of the issues in the long run — the big media in Brazil doesn’t really cover that.
When Dorothy Stang, an American missionary, was assassinated, the big media did not know her work here. I did all the coverage of the assassination and when I did the research I didn’t find anything. There was not much information about Dorothy. The only coverage that they had was something negative, that she was causing trouble and bringing up issues that the government didn’t want to deal with. They would make up stories that she would teach the Indians how to use guns, different stories to give her a bad image.
We call that the invisibility of people here in Amazonas. One of our goals here is to take the news of these invisible groups that are here but don’t get seen.
IBT: Does the mainstream media know about these issues and not care, or do they just not have the resources? Why don’t they follow up?
Brasil: What we observe here is a lack of interest. The main newspapers don’t have representatives here in Amazônia anymore so there is no coverage. What they say is that they don’t have teams in different states because of the financial crisis, but in regards to Amazônia it hasn’t happened in a long time. What makes it difficult here is that the access to these regions is very difficult.
IBT: So mainstream media in Brazil pulled out of the region before the economic crisis?
Brasil: They used to invest but for long periods of time they just haven’t been investing anymore.
All the main media groups in Brazil and worldwide were all there in 1991 when I started here. The big TV stations and newspapers all had correspondents and freelancers in the region. They all left around 2007. The coverage that was the priority was what was going on in Rio and San Paolo and the major cities.
IBT: Why do people in Brazil need to be paying attention to these issues?
Brasil: These regions need to get more visibility because the media has such an important role in fighting the deforestation and other issues. Amazônia is 60 percent of the Brazilian territory. Thirty million Brazilians live in this region. Most of the infrastructure and investments are coming to this part of the country, to energy and — they have a huge impact on people’s lives here. It is the main part of the country.
IBT: Have you faced any opposition in reporting on issues in the region when they buck major economic interests?
Brasil: We had one problem when we covered the lack of water in the city of Manaus. We are right next to the largest body of water in the country. But about a half million people in the city do not have access to clean water. When we covered it, the company that deals with the water here threatened to take us to court. We confirmed all the facts that we had and we were backed up by the truth.
IBT: Was there any mainstream coverage of that issue?
Brasil: No. Usually what we cover is not in the big media.
IBT: A half million people without access to clean water is a big thing to fly under the radar. The Flint, Michigan, water crisis that made national headlines in the U.S. earlier this year affected less than 20,000 people.
Brasil: When we did the coverage about the water it was during the 2014 World Cup season. We put it up to show what was really going on in Manaus because we had four of the games here. The U.S. played a game here, as well.
IBT: The 2016 Olympics is around the corner in Rio. Are these events good for the country or do they distract from the serious issues?
Brasil: We are going through the largest crisis we have ever been through here. The question is always what legacy are these events going to leave for us. After the World Cup, a lot of the stadiums are still being finished and nothing is happening. The maintenance is expensive and that money could go to investment in health and education that is lacking. These stadiums are worth a lot and need even more money to maintain. We need to prioritize education. All the investment that goes to these stadiums and the events is public.
The main argument is that since Brazil is the country of soccer, we needed the World Cup here. Now the argument is we have never had an Olympics here, so we need one here. It’s a huge contradiction. Sports is something vital and has the potential to change lives, but the investment in these athletes is large. It’s an important question.