The reporting on Rio de Janeiro and the Olympics certainly wasn’t the Times’ finest hour. The newspaper as well as other mainstream media outlets like the Guardian, Le Monde, CNN, BBC excelled in prejudice, half-truths, alarmist prognostics and lots of truly silly stuff --like the Globo biscuits issue. Disproportionate space was given to Brazilian and foreign critics anxious for their 15 minutes (or rather seconds) of fame and/or pursuing political agendas.
I know ‘good news is no news’ but that facts are: no athlete contracted Zica –unfortunately some folks in Florida did— the mugging of American swimmers by the police was a farce, the news of massive evictions from favelas to give way to Olympic venues and developers was heavily distorted and the announced chaos simply didn’t happen. The games were well organized, the city hospitable and friendly. Some of the special envoys and correspondents owe apologies to several thousands of tourists (and some athletes as well) that renounced coming to Rio impressed by this very negative campaign.
Our city has lots of security, social and environmental problems whose solution is too slow or has been insufficient. The whole country faces a profound economic and political crisis at this time. Nevertheless, the degree of distortion and lazy journalism we have witnessed throughout this process was truly troublesome.
Just two examples amongst a lot of inexact coverage. The water pollution issue: there is an obvious difference between the swimming competition in Copacabana beach and boating and sail in the Guanabara bay. Copacabana like any coastal city beach can be improper for bathing during or after rainy days. Only very few cities that treat all their runoff can totally avoid that. The competition happened in good weather and the beach was not polluted. The Guanabara bay is quite polluted as are the Hudson, Seine and Thames rivers where people in general avoid swimming but not boating.
As for the “eviction” drama at the Autodromo region, used for some venues and future developments, the news were very much distorted. There where two kinds of illegal occupations in the area: middle class and rich people’s constructions in an environmental protection area along the Jacarepagua lagoon’s and illegally built commercial constructions on a strip reserved for an avenue. There removal was negotiated and ended as rather good business for the occupiers. There was also a small shanty town with poor families, illegally built as well but legalized in the past by the state government. The dwellers at first resisted and did where justified in doing so. As fairly good solution was negotiated and most were to a fairly good quality housing project near by. The 25 families that preferred to stay in place remained with living conditions being improved for them. So the ‘inhuman eviction’ mentioned in some hasty articles was a half truth very close to a lie in a strongly politicized process.
Alfredo Sirkis – Rio de Janeiro.
(writer, journalist, former commissioner for urban management of Rio and former Congressman)