Coverage of the Santa Maria fire by the Brazilian media has been overwhelming. Whole spreads were allocated to it the day after it happened, bumping any other news to the back of the news agenda. The O Globo website has a whole section dedicated to it, and has started a witch-hunt against clubs and bars in many Brazilian cities.
I am not sure if the Brazilian media is trying to help avoiding more incidents like this or if the story is just too ‘good’ to be explored in every possible angle. But one thing is for sure; closing 49 clubs in Rio de Janeiro because they were not strictly operating legally – and let me clarify this stemmed from an exposition of these clubs run by O Globo – is a horrible way to spread fear in a population.
Off the top of my head, I can name you five clubs in Rio de Janeiro from which I would not be able to escape from in case something happened. And while it’s the owners’ faults that their establishments are not safe or haven’t been declared to be safe, the media is focusing on the wrong side of the problem. The issue is not quite about the owners themselves, it’s about the people who supervise the opening of these places, it’s the bureaucracy that makes it impossible to have a night club without bribing government officials, it’s the authorities that failed to realize there was a club that was illegally open for 30 years in Campinas. It’s their fault that I don’t know any clubs with good emergency signs or even emergency exits.
The media has been blaming the wrong people. In terms of accountability, the biggest guilty party will always be the people with the most responsibility. So what happens when journalists are not paying attention to the most important aspect of the story? What happens when thousands of words are printed, but they serve no real purpose to the future of society?
Simply, what always happens in Brazil (and possibly other places in the world). It has a few simple steps.
1) Incident that has the potential to outrage a whole nation.
2) Press covers it, as it is in the public interest to report it.
3) Nation is outraged, demanding a solution.
4) A temporary solution (shutting down of clubs for a weekend, for example) pops up, not really fixing anything or punishing anyone who is really accountable for the incident.
5) Solution, incident and outrage are forgotten, and a society is left with the same problems than before.
You could say I am angry and disappointed. Yet, I think it’s a little bit more than that; I am recognising a vicious cycle in today’s media and I feel like we, as young journalists, should be wary of quick and snappy solutions to the problems we might make known to the world. We should have alarms going off in our heads if the government or authority or company is simply working to repair their image rather than give us concrete solutions.
Unfortunately for all of us, the people forget. At least here in Brazil, corrupt politicians have been absolved by their peers, then re-elected by the people – several times. But journalists do not have the right to forget. Not only that, but we have a duty to remember.
What? You don’t think the UK has this problem? Lies. Who brought justice to the victims and families of Hillsborough? The people did. What happened with the Jimmy Saville report done by the BBC? An insufficient and pathetic report was produced to protect those in the upper ranks who never came forward. All the time we see authorities not being punished for their actions, for pleading with the public for mercy and getting it.
Let’s poke at the wounds, hacks. Even if it’s not in the mainstream news agenda, let’s poke it until we get a satisfactory answer. And let’s poke it at the highest ranks and not settle for crummy reports and people who aren’t even sorry.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look