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Even though the mountain becomes the sea, words cannot open another’s mind.”  (Zen Wisdom)

If one were to ask an average Rio de Janeiro citizen of his opinion concerning the quality of local mass media, I wonder what kind of reply one would get. May I venture a guess? Arguably, the answer would be either an embarrassed silence or an uncertain shrug of the shoulders. And here we’ve arrived to the pith and substance of the problem behind the stagnation of Rio de Janeiro news establishment.

The answer, as well as the blame lies not only with the journalism itself, but rather in the dormant if not suicidal complacency of the larger part of Brazilian public, which can be blamed almost entirely on inadequate facilities of information and education, for which, sadly, the press is also responsible.

Mass media only acts as a mirror, as a reflection of whats going on in public´s collective mind. The weird truth that there are many publishers and editors out there who are well aware that the public taste is far stranger and more twisted than the square world of editors and journalists.

All of which makes journalism a sort of echo of public´s voice. At least it should act as one in a democratic society, if , of course, it happens to be a democratic society. And what kind of interest does an average Carioca have? – one might ask.

What is an archetypal Rio citizen, his make up as it were? He is a happy-go-lucky number, friendly, loves festivities, beer, and good but frivolous conversation, he worships football , carnival and, as a rule, completely oblivious to whats going on in a political sphere, even when it comes to his own destiny and the destiny of his country.

This, mind you, should not come across as an accusation. Come to think of it, these very human qualities are to be admired, cherished and envied if we were living in the world free of politicians. Alas, this is the world where, sadly, the politics still rule, and if we are to have any hope to change our lot, we should keep the both eyes fixed on the shifty fat-bellies in congress, senate, parliament, and any and every place one might still encounter this species.

But Brazilian folk seem to be content with having their eyes firmly shut when it comes to those who decide their fate. “The world seems like a mad-house, and the world is a mad-house, but nobody dares to dwell on it. When an appalling piece of insanity is about to be presented a warning issued to the spectators not to indulge in demonstrations. Rest impartial! That is the edict. Don’t budge from your sleep! We command you in the name of lunacy – keep cool! And for the most part the injunctions are heeded.” (Henry Miller)

So, how can we blame the press for telling us what everyone wants to hear and laboring day and night serving Brazilian public hired tripe, mean propaganda and platitudes by the bucket-full? In my personal opinion the answer is YES we can and we should blame journalists for not being able to brave the dangers of the profession they chose and not always providing truthful coverage.

How many newspapers are there in Brazil that command the respect of people who know something about journalism? I would have hard time counting three. Go to any newspaper stand and see how many political articles one wants to read.

Almost no journalist is confident enough to attack anything except drug traffic, high taxes, corruption, dreadful customer service, bad roads, police abuse etc. Should I really rattle off the whole list? The bitter truth is almost no one dares to utter the names of the people responsible. Who is corrupt? Why high taxes? What motive? No explanation given. No names.

Case in point: The visit of the president of the USA. There was a lot written and very little said. The news reportage of Obama’s visit to Latin America provided by local newsmen, with a few rare exceptions, was lacking analytical objectivity and was anything but thorough.

Never before had the press had such a golden opportunity to do away with sham and tripe and expose the basic issues of what might have been one of the greatest events in the history of Brazilian politics, but the whole so called ‘coverage’ was nothing but a silly joke and as nourishing as a McDonalds burger. Readers simply did not know how to evaluate Obama’s visit, which, for us highlighted the editorial poverty of the Brazilian press.

Master of Political Science and Doctor of Social Science Rada Ricci said “We didn’t find out why Obama was criticized so heavily in his home country for being here; we didn’t find out his agenda (planes? effective incorporation of this country into the international axis led by the USA? Pre-salt [oilfields]?; analysis of the signed agreements. Without knowing clearly what its objectives were, we cannot analyze its success.”

Instead, the press nearly tumbled head-over-heels declaring their unconditional affection with Obama’s rhetoric and Michelle’s fashion style. Boy scouts could have asked more penetrating questions that the journalist have offered us so far. The questions, for the most part, were devoid of weight, meaning, or perception and the whole coverage should have been written-off as insipid, lacking vitality, and just plain emasculated.

The same can be said about the coverage of the police occupation of Comlexo do Alêmão. There were many questions left unanswered. How come there were no significant amounts of money found? Why were so many drug dealers were able to escape? Why were no reporters permitted inside to film the operation? Well, do I really need to ask “why?”  – or do we all already know the answer to this question?

If you are an inquisitive type and continue to seek the truth, it would be good to remember the name of the reporter-blogger Ricardo Gama who was brutally shot seven times two months ago in Copacabana for the reasons only known to the people who perpetrated this heinous crime. Luckily, he survived this time. Not everyone is so lucky . . .

One should not step into the dangerous minefield of journalism to simply throw away the integrity and compromise with the public taste, the mass intellect and the self–sighted demands of profit hungry advertisers. However, we all understand that newsmen are only too human, and I guess we all have to eat and feed our families, we are all in the same boat after all.

Being a journalist in a man-made jungle borders on the suicidal, and the men who undertake this Herculean task have my heartfelt sympathy. Everyday, Brazilian reporters risk being killed in war zones overseas – or on the violence-drenched streets of our city.

Journalists these days are faced not so much with the moral question whether to choose between being right or being comfortable, but the choice is between being right or being alive. Any man who has the genuine impulse of the journalist in this country will be more anxious to survive in his articles than in the flesh.

Calling the country a “flourishing democracy” is certainly too easy; proving it is entirely different matter altogether. Making democracy work proves harder than bringing down authoritarian rule. The real change must take place not only in the government but in the peoples’ attitude.

No one could have put the ideals of the journalism better than Joseph Pulitzer – the forefather of new journalism. He said, “[Journalism is] an institution that should always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.”

So that is it? Mere words or is it a perspective? After all, journalism is a profession of words. Words are its armament, its defense, its life. But, as with everything else there is the ever present duality inherent in the nature of all things. Journalism is no exception.

Where one newsman employs words to offer public a path to clarity, the other no less skillfully gums them together to either say nothing at all, or in the worst case scenario, plays obedient puppet, dancing to the tune of the master who pulls the strings. And thus forever and ever we are caught in the vicious circle where public thought corrupts the press and the press corrupts the public thought.

One, of course, can not change this situation overnight, but one, at least, can try to change one’s attitude. And our press can do us all a big favor of seeing to it that this change is underway. “Words can not open another’s mind,” but, at the very least, they can point in the right direction.

By Slava Dolgopyat

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